WHEN weighing up the fallout of the WikiLeaks saga, both governments and citizens would be wise to remember the words of that advocate of peaceful democratic change, Mohandas Gandhi: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
The release of thousands of (frankly underwhelming) secret US diplomatic cables is so much more than the story of a man who thumbed his nose at a superpower. The events of the past few weeks may well mark the time that new technologies made good on their promise to remodel democracy; traditional democracy has been found wanting.
WikiLeaks has handed unprecedented power to ordinary people. "Operation Leakspin", launched by the WikiLeaks-supporting group Anonymous, encourages everyone and anyone to find the most interesting revelations in the leaked cables and spread them virally across the internet.
This has raised thorny questions for democratic governments. Do they have an unassailable right to keep secrets from their citizens? Do they have the right to trample the freedom of individuals if they fear the release of information will embarrass them or, at its most extreme, put lives at risk?
The WikiLeaks saga also raises profound issues for citizens. The past days have seen a popular uprising by armchair activists who are angered by the behaviour of governments and companies. New forms of protest are now possible (see "WikiLeaks wars: digital conflict spills into the real world"). Which of them should be protected as vigorously as free speech?
Citizens must be free to hold their elected representatives to account and express their displeasure at the behaviour of corporations. But some of the tactics we have seen - such as the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks used by Anonymous members and others to crash websites - are questionable. You could argue that they are merely cyber sit-ins that are no different to traditional forms of civil disobedience. Or you might liken them to looting.
We wholeheartedly support the use of the internet to help citizens make their voices heard. But good citizens must act within the law, and good democracies are built on good laws, so the legal framework may now have to be updated.
Where is all this leading? As a bare minimum democratic governments are going to have to change, on the assumption that everything they do is liable to be leaked. A government's best defence against future revelations is to always be just, straight and fair in its dealings.
Citizens must also change. The balance of power may be tilting in their favour, but with power comes responsibility.
No one knows what Democracy 2.0 will look like, but it will be different. It is going to be a bumpy ride, but it will be well worth tolerating if it results in a freer and more democratic society.
Carlos Alberto Da Silva