Sunday, April 08, 2007

Whistleblowing, De-Spooked

I'd been sorting through e-mails that had piled up since Good Friday and browsing a few newspapers and blogs when I stumbled onto news of an intriguing new concept in ___-pedias. It's actually a whistleblowerpedia, and the founders are calling it Wikileaks.

Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the west who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact; this means our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by non-technical people. We have received over 1.2 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.

We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies. Many governments would benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information. Historically that information has been costly - in terms of human life and human rights. Wikileaks will facilitate safety in the ethical leaking movement.


Wikileaks was founded by Chinese dissidents, mathematicians and startup company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa.

Our advisory board, which is still forming, includes representatives from expatriate Russian and Tibetan refugee communities, reporters, a former US intelligence analyst and cryptographers.

There are currently 22 people directly involved in the project and counting.

Wikileaks is serious stuff (if it's entertainment value you're after, you'll want to visit Conservapedia), and the untraceable, uncensorable site has a mission: to open up government and corporations to public scrutiny and accountability--and I do believe they mean on a worldwide basis--and in so doing, eliminate fraud, malfeasance, deception, and criminality. The lowdown from Trust Me:

Wikileaks is an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. It combines the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies with the transparency and simplicity of a wiki interface.

Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.

Consider Daniel Ellsberg, working within the US government during the Vietnam War. He comes into contact with the Pentagon Papers, a meticulously kept record of military and strategic planning throughout the war. Those papers reveal the depths to which the US government has sunk in deceiving the population about the war. Yet the public and the media know nothing of this urgent and shocking information. Indeed, secrecy laws are being used to keep the public ignorant of gross dishonesty practiced by their government. In spite of those secrecy laws and at great personal risk, Ellsberg manages to disseminate the Pentagon papers to journalists and to the world. Despite facing criminal charges, eventually dropped, the release of the Pentagon papers shocks the world, exposes the government, and helps to shorten the war and save thousands of lives.

The power of principled leaking to embarrass governments, corporations and institutions is amply demonstrated through recent history. Public scrutiny of otherwise unaccountable and secretive institutions pressures them to act ethically. What official will chance a secret, corrupt transaction when the public is likely to find out? What repressive plan will be carried out when it is revealed to the citizenry, not just of its own country, but the world? When the risks of embarrassment through openness and honesty increase, the tables are turned against conspiracy, corruption, exploitation and oppression. Open government answers injustice rather than causing it. Open government exposes and undoes corruption. Open governance is the most cost effective method of promoting good governance.
Worrywart that I am, though, I'm concerned about things like NSA intrusion: the site may indeed accept anonymous and untraceable contributions of documents, but would the US Government find some way to hold the site's owners accountable--or even demand de-encrypting of Wikileaks' records--if sensitive information were leaked that either a) led to a disastrous incident of some sort or b) caused serious embarrassment to a member or agency of the US Government, or to a corporation entrusted, as a contractor, with carrying out the duties thereof (or, hell, any corporation that's simply--ahem--a friend of the government?)

That said, the idea and its implications are breathtaking, groundbreaking, and bold. Great ideas tend to be that way, though the proof will come after the launching. Do check out the Wikileaks site and its proposed mission and modus operandi--I'm terribly curious to hear what readers (especially the lawyerly and techno-talented sorts) think about this one.

Also at Ezra's place.

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