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US State Department tells employees not to read WikiLeaks

The US State Department has pushed employees toward "digital diplomacy" with Twitter and iPhone apps, but the department has banned all employees from using WikiLeaks.

By Staff Writer / December 1, 2010

The home page of the Wikileaks.org website is pictured on a computer in Hoboken, New Jersey on Nov. 28. The US State Department has directed its staff around the world not to read WikiLeaks.

Gary Hershorn/Reuters

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New Delhi

The US State Department has directed its staff around the world not to surf the WikiLeaks website, according to employees.

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The ban is in response to WikiLeaks' decision to published classified material, including US diplomatic cables. It’s not clear when the policy first began but it joins a similar order by the US Department of Defense put in place since the leaking of Iraq and Afghanistan war documents earlier this year.

Analysts suggest the State Department is temporarily falling back on traditional bureaucratic protocols in the face of a crisis that is emblematic of the shift to an online world. As the dust settles, the WikiLeaks upheaval may push to the fore tensions between new “digital diplomacy” efforts that use Twitter and smart-phone apps, and an older culture of classified cables.

“They need to engage with the broader public, which is empowered with web 2.0, but at the same time keep confidentiality, which is a huge tension that organizations like the State Department have to address,” says Jovan Kurbalija, an expert in diplomacy and information technology based in Geneva.

Tech-savvy State Department?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pushed for more integration of Internet advances in US diplomacy. She supported young, tech-savvy officers who were developing huge Twitter followings.

In East Africa, the State Department supported a competition called "Apps 4 Africa" that challenged software developers to come up with a socially beneficial phone application. The winner was "iCow," an application that helps farmers track animal breeding cycles.

“That’s at the heart of what this digital diplomacy is,” says Sam duPont, a policy analyst with NDN, a think-tank in Washington. “Using this incredibly powerful global network to bypass traditional government-to-government, diplomat-to-diplomat relationships and use the technology to reach people you couldn’t reach before.”

The transparency conundrum

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