Just as Facebook and ubiquitous CCTV spell the end of privacy for the individual, the latest Wikileaks revelations look like the end of privacy for governments. Unfortunately, social proof means that enforced openness is unlikely to be any healthier for governments than it has been for individuals.
While some individual privacy has been given up voluntarily (we publish our thoughts, our locations, our moods), some has been given up without much in the way of consent (in the UK we are watched by 4.2 million CCTV cameras, one for every 14 people). And while some government privacy has been given up ostensibly voluntarily, if grudgingly, (freedom of information legislation) some has simply been taken away (Wikileaks keeps publishing the United States' secret documents). Technology makes privacy hard to maintain and if three people can only keep a secret so long as two of them are dead, what chance had three million? One of the strangest aspects of this leak - which governments terrified of embarrassment continue to claim with almost charmingly blatant ulteriority puts lives and national security at risk - is that these "secrets" were already known to three million US government officials, "a diplomatic outreach", says Simon Jenkins, "that makes the British Empire look miniscule".
Wikileaks' revelation that the world's leaders are variously corrupt, incompetent, kleptomanic, paranoid, venal or simply insane therefore presents two problems. First, it is not a revelation. It is what we all expected to come out. Three million American civil servants knew what was on the wires that leaked today but seven billion of us knew that as a matter of course our governments will lie to us and behave as badly as they think they can get away with it. The secrets are only in the details. Second, while it has apparently created a momentary diplomatic crisis the likely end result of this process is far from positive - governments will see how dreadfully other govenments, and especially the world's self-appointed policeman, behave and consider it a validation and legitimation of whatever awful thing they are doing (or perhaps merely wanted to do). Celebrities do not behave laudably merely because the cameras are always rolling. Nor do Big Brother contestants. Why should politicians?
Some governments are born open, some achieve openness and some have openness thrust upon them. Wikileaks is thrusting openness on the world's governments, willing or no. That openness will merely demonstrate to them the very ordinariness of their misdeeds, and encourage them to continue in cosy solidarity.