Calendar of Events

Spring 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011
Minding the Gaps: WikiLeaks and Internet Security in the 21st Century
A symposium
2:00 pm Curtin 175
Co-sponsored by UWM's Center for Information Policy Research (CIPR) and School of Information Studies (SOIS)

With Laura DeNardis (Yale), and UWM faculty Sandra Braman (Communication) and Richard Grusin (C21, English). Moderated by Michael Zimmer (SOIS).

The symposium's title comes from the ubiquitous pre-recorded security voice on the London Tube, reminding passengers to “mind the gap” between train cars and platforms. Unlike the physical gaps of 20th century transportation technologies like the Underground, the information gaps of 21st century communication technologies like the Internet pose security issues of a very different kind, as epitomized by the ongoing conflict between WikiLeaks and (especially) the U.S. government. This panel will address the questions of WikiLeaks and Internet security from three different perspectives—political, legal, and medial—in order to come to terms with the ways in which WikiLeaks crystallizes some of the major security questions of the 21st century.

Can't make it to the symposium? The School of Information Studies (SOIS) will be live streaming the symposium through their website: From the SOIS site, you can comment or ask questions through Twitter, Facebook, or a general comments page for those who do not subscribe to either of those two social media.

Laura DeNardis is a research scholar, lecturer, and the executive director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. In her presentation, she will address the technical and governance issues involved in enabling or interdicting WikiLeaks from operating freely. Sandra Braman, professor of Communication at UWM, will concentrate on the suite of legal issues at the core of the Cablegate affair, including situating those issues within the post-World War II treatment of national security and information. C21 director and professor of English Richard Grusin will take up questions of mediality and affectivity in relation to Wikileaks.

WikiLeaks and the Politics of Denial of Service Attacks
Laura DeNardis

The 2010 WikiLeaks controversy involved the online publication of United States diplomatic cables, so it’s easy to view this episode primarily through a lens of the content and data that WikiLeaks published. For example, should the United States government classify WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization for releasing this information or should WikiLeaks generally be viewed as “press” and receive corresponding press protections?

These are important questions, but the events that occurred in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks episode also raise core questions about the future of Internet governance and freedom of expression online. These questions exist at a level of technical architecture and control just below content. For example,, Amazon, MasterCard, PayPal, and Visa chose to cease providing Internet services to WikiLeaks, essentially making private decisions to cut off the controversial site from being accessible online. Another Internet governance issue involved the use of distributed denial of service attacks for political protest. This type of attack typically involves the installation of agent code onto unwitting computers, which in turn are used to simultaneously bombard a targeted site with so many requests as to render the site inaccessible for legitimate traffic. MasterCard, Visa, and other companies were targets of these attacks because of their decision to terminate services to WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks itself was also a target of denial of service attacks. A significant concern in global Internet governance contexts is the collateral damage instilled by these attacks and their role in the disruption of free expression and commerce online.

This talk will then examine the legal and political implications of denial of service attacks and discuss the role of new Internet governance control points in preserving infrastructures of free expression online.

The WikiLeaks Moment: Transformations in Law-State-Society Relations
Sandra Braman

Legal historians describe the current era as one in which transformations in law-state-society relations are underway that are as profound in nature as those which took place during the formation of the international system of secular states hundreds of years ago. WikiLeaks processes and effects are both manifestations of such transformations and, in turn, factors triggering further developments in a stochastic way. This presentation will explore the multiple legal issues raised by WikiLeaks, examine the political implications of available options for resolving those issues, and discuss the impact of each upon relations between law and the state, the state and society, and society and the law.

WikiLeaks and Mediality
Richard Grusin

Over the past year and more, WikiLeaks has been lauded by critics of U.S. foreign policy, as well as advocates for the freedom of information, for making available audiovisual and textual evidence of atrocities perpetrated in the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of questionable diplomatic behavior across the globe. Converesly, WikiLeaks has been accused of taking information out of context and of making available confidential information that could further endanger U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic relations with our allies and enemies, as well as inflaming anti-American sentiment in ways that could increase the risks of terror attacks on U.S. soil. Almost all of the discussion surrounding WikiLeaks has focused on the question of media content or information, on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of releasing confidential information to the global media public—particularly in relation to what has come to be known as “Cablegate,” the massive release of over a quarter-million classified U.S. diplomatic cables. In my talk I want to pursue a different tack by taking up the formal and affective qualities of these releases, the way in which WikiLeaks functions as a form of what I have called “mediality.” My argument is that the impact of WikiLeaks derives as much from its modulation of collective affect, or structures of feeling, through technical and formal means, as it does from providing people with information or content about the war that they did not otherwise possess.

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