Social Foundations III

Social Foundations III

4th Revised Paper Assignment (30%): Social Contract and the Internet.
Due in class Dec 14, 2015 Mon.

(1) Answer ALL questions, and ALL parts of a question; or credit will be lost.

(2) Bear in mind that writing counts, as well as content; so, if the paper has problems with organization, grammar, flow, word usage, etc., it will lose credit as well.

(3) The paper is to be typed, double-spaced, with one-inch margins around the pages for my comments, & with the pages numbered. When you use double-spacing, indent 5 spaces from the left margin to indicate the first sentence of a new paragraph (tap the space bar 5 times, or tap the tab key once); otherwise, it is hard to see where a paragraph starts in a double-spaced format.

(4) Please don’t use any covers for your essay; just staple the pages together and type in the upper left-hand corner: (a) Your name, (b) the instructor’s name, (c) course title, (d) the time of your section, and (e) date.
(5) Remember to use proper citations for footnotes/endnotes and for the bibliography or works-cited list.
Consult a style or writing manual for the different formats required for notes and bibliographic citations; but be consistent in the style you choose – don’t mix the styles in the paper.

(6) ALSO REMEMBER that the source for any information that you summarize or paraphrase MUST be cited; it isn’t just quotations that need citations. And if you do use quotes, be selective: Not everything needs to have a quotation for it.


In a 15-20 page research paper, examine the explicit and implicit issues of the topic, starting with the Alex Gibney documentary, and incorporate your answers to the following questions. This assignment is structured so that parts of it can be done before seeing the Gibney film (and it is highly recommended that some of the research be done first). You may re-arrange the questions to facilitate the flow of your essay. And you may use extra pages as needed.
The sources you use should include print as well as online materials; and they should be from legitimate publishers, organizations, or sites. Blogs should not be used as they tend to reflect the owner’s biases; and some blogs reflect the “lunatic fringe” of public opinion.
When citing online sources for the bibliography/works-cited list, remember to give the full <http : …> address of the work, as well as the author, title and other information usually provided in such citations. And don’t forget to give the full publication citation for print sources in your alphabetized bibliography.
(Reminder: Bibliographic entries are alphabetized by the author or editor’s last name. If there’s no author, editor or compiler, then alphabetize by the title of the work, but not by the definite article of “The” or the indefinite article of “A” or “An”; alphabetize by the second word in the title.)

NOTE: Students are to approach this assignment as though they were journalists investigating the pros and cons of this issue. Pretend that you are writing an informational piece for TIME magazine or THE ECONOMIST, or some other periodical. This means that the essay is not to be an advocacy piece or an editorial, arguing for or against a position. You may include your personal (and well-reasoned) views at the end of the essay as an Op-Ed comment; but the bulk of the paper should elucidate the problems, contradictions, complications, positive and negative potentials of a social contract for the Internet.


Alex Gibney’s documentary, WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS, deals with the controversial Internet organization. In addition to the creation of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, the film also looks at the revelations by US “whistle-blowers”, and the complicated issues of America’s First Amendment under the Bill of Rights on freedom of political expression and, by extension, freedom of information. Underlying these issues are implied questions of social contract. (Check YouTube or iTunes for the film.)

1. In the borderless world of the Internet, what should govern the behavior of individuals and entities participating in cyberspace (i.e. persons & entities in both the private and public sectors)? Can there be a social contract among “netizens” (citizens of the Internet) who transcend the boundaries and authorities of nation-states? And can any social contract actually be enforced in such an environment?

2. What are the pros and cons of transparency, i.e. revealing secret wrong-doing by private and public sector elements? (“Public sector” refers to government.)

3. What is the background to WikiLeaks and its leading personalities?

4. Before the Internet, whistle-blowing had also existed: For example, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. (a) Who was Ellsberg? (b) Why, and what did he reveal about government policy? (c) How did he “leak” his information without the advantages of our current technology? (d) How did the government respond to Ellsberg and the N.Y. Times’ revelations (i.e. what actions did the government take against him and the press in its damage control and spin)? (e) What were the results of this pre-Internet leak?

5. There were various charges about Ellsberg, and later on, Assange, Manning, etc. (Note: the documentary was made before Edward Snowden and his revelations; but you may discuss him). (a) How do questions about the personalities or personal behavior of leakers complicate matters? (b) Do such accusations invalidate the information revealed? Why or why not?

6. The problem of treason is always a vexing issue when national security is involved. Those who work or serve in the civilian and military sectors of government take oaths of loyalty and/or sign confidentiality contracts. (a) What do loyalty oaths actually say? What contradictions might there be in such oaths, such as the US military oath? Are there multiple duties under such oaths creating conflicts of obligations? (b) Are such oaths and confidentiality contracts absolutely binding? Or, depending on the situation, can they be superseded by “a higher moral duty”? For example, does wearing a uniform prevent an individual from acting according to his conscience? Or is he just to “follow orders” all the time? And does “following orders” necessarily absolve one from all personal moral responsibility (as in the Nuremburg defense)?

7. In America, there is the Espionage Act; and in Britain, there is the Official Secrets Act.
(a) Give the background to one of these two laws as to its origins. (b) How broadly or narrowly did the law define “treason” & “disloyalty”? (c) What did the law say about how government can deal with “treasonable” or “disloyal” acts (i.e. what was the scope of the government’s actions and discretionary authority)? (d) Are the provisions of the law still in operation? If so, have they been changed, and how? (E.g. do the changes now make it easier or harder for the government to act against perceived or actual disloyalty/treason; and in what ways?)

8. Besides the problem of government secrets being leaked, there are other problems that involve the “Deep Web”. (a) What is the Deep Web? (b) Who or what are involved in it? (c) What kinds of activities are there so far? Are they legitimate or illegitimate, or even illegal? (d) What is being done to deal with these activities? How effective are such actions?

9. News agencies are often part of leaks. Yet, they face conflicting needs, i.e. “getting the scoop”; avoiding legal liability or prosecution; and being morally responsible (e.g. to protect informers by blacking out their names in leaked documents). How do press organizations balance such needs; or does one need trump the others, depending on the situation? [End]