"Gatekeeping is over" – new wiki enables anonymous leaks
A new wiki is being set up by Chinese dissidents in collaboration with mathematicians and startup company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa. WikiLeaks will become “an uncensorable version of wikipedia”, according to the site.
The objective is to provide a place where people in oppressed regimes can leak documents without getting caught, thus promoting democracy. This will be accomplished by the use of anonymity and encryption.
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.
But WikiLeaks isn’t restricted to leaks about oppressive regimes.
WikiLeaks will be the outlet for every government official, every bureaucrat, every corporate worker, who becomes privy to embarrassing information which the institution wants to hide but the public needs to know. What conscience cannot contain, and institutional secrecy unjustly conceals, WikiLeaks can broadcast to the world.
But how could it possibly be used as a journalistic tool? How does a journalist verify that the information is correct, that the documents come from where it’s said they are from? This could indeed become an efficient tool – for spreading misinformation and rumours. Though the documents are supposed to be scrutinized by the public, it is not necessarily so that the public knows much about the exact things being leaked – if they did, there would be little point leaking them.
Here’s what the site FAQ has to say on the issue.
WikiLeaks opens leaked documents up to a much more exacting scrutiny than any media organization or intelligence agency could provide: the scrutiny of a worldwide community of informed wiki editors.
If a document is leaked from the Chinese government, the entire Chinese dissident community can freely scrutinize and discuss it; if a document is leaked from Somalia, the entire Somali refugee community can analyze it and put it in context. And so on.
Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy has some objections against the project:
In the absence of accountable editorial oversight, publication can more easily become an act of aggression or an incitement to violence, not to mention an invasion of privacy or an offense against good taste.
“As we saw with the Saddam hanging video this week, gatekeeping is over”, responds Martin Stabe, and continues:
There is no way to require “accountable editorial oversight” as a barrier to entry to the public sphere anymore — a determined leaker will find a way to publicise their material online. But that doesn’t mean a responsible journalist has to cooperate with a project that carries a high risk of being used irresponsibly and seems to abdicate all responsibility for the actions of its users.