OpenLeaks: A Kinder, Gentler WikiLeaks?
A new organization aims to put its own spin on transparency, taking a page from the WikiLeaks playbook but adding a twist that could add a safety valve to the process. Like WikiLeaks, OpenLeaks will offer whistleblowers an anonymous way to submit secret information, but instead of publishing it on the Web at large, OpenLeaks will pass it along to news and media outlets of the leaker's choosing.
12/13/10 6:00 AM PT
Dissident staff members at WikiLeaks, led by that site's former spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, reportedly plan to launch a spinoff to be named "OpenLeaks."
This may be unveiled as early as next week.
Like WikiLeaks, OpenLeaks will let whistle-blowers anonymously submit information to a secure online dropbox.
Unlike WikiLeaks, however, it won't dump all that information directly onto the public Web; instead, it will let contributors designate any media or non-governmental organizations they select to check the facts, redact sensitive information, and publish it themselves.
Is that really a kinder, gentler approach, or will OpenLeaks be an exercise in futility?
The Wheres, Whats and Wherefores of OpenLeaks
A check with two Whois service providers showed the existence of two OpenLeaks domain names registered to different organizations.
1and1 was founded as a reseller of technology products, including an early online service, in 1988. It acquired Web host and Internet domain registrar Schlund + Partner in 1998 and has 70,000 servers installed in five data centers.
The company has sites in Austria, France, Germany, the Philippines, Romania, Spain, the United Kingdom and Chesterbrook.
When called, the Chesterbrook office directed TechNewsWorld to email questions about OpenLeaks.com to email@example.com. The company acknowledged receipt of the email but did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
The other registration is for OpenLeaks.org, and that domain is held by CINIPAC IBC, according to Domaintools.com.
CINIPAC IBC apparently registered the domain name Sept. 17, and that domain expires Sept. 17, 2011. CINIPAC IBC is located in Malaysia. Attempts to contact CINIPAC through the admin email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, were unsuccessful.
About OpenLeaks' People
Daniel Domscheit-Berg left WikiLeaks in a blaze of publicity in September after criticizing the site's founder, Julian Assange, over various issues, including a lack of transparency in the organization and Assange's insistence on tight control over the site and its workings.
Domscheit-Berg, who used to act as WikiLeaks' spokesperson using the name Daniel Schmitt, has reportedly threatened to write a book exposing Assange.
He claims to have put together a group of dissatisfied WikiLeaks staffers, none of whom he has identified.
Will OpenLeaks Subvert Transparency?
OpenLeaks reportedly intends to release documents to the media, which will be given the chance to vet the information before making it public.
"Using media organizations as a filter is not a panacea," Rebecca Jeschke, a spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out.
The media is capable of self-censorship, and that could be dangerous, Jeschke told TechNewsWorld. "Back in 2005, we learned that the New York Times had held on to a story about warrantless wiretapping for more than a year," she explained. "They had known about the issue before the 2004 election and hadn't published the information because the government said that would jeopardize national security."
Indeed, the question of national security is a vexing one. It often appears that governments prefer to sweep many difficult issues under the carpet of national security, but members of the public may lean strongly toward openness, as WikiLeaks' supporters can attest.
For example, the United States is reportedly seeking to prosecute Assange for spying, and Former President Bill Clinton said in a speech earlier this week in San Francisco that the latest WikiLeaks disclosure has harmed the United States as well as citizens of foreign governments who may have worked with the U.S., jeopardizing their jobs and, in some cases, their lives.
However, there's been a groundswell of support for WikiLeaks, with some supporters launching cyberattacks on MasterCard, Visa and any organization seen to be taking any action against the site or Assange.
Further, should U.S. prosecutors pursue Assange, they could run into difficulty in regard to the First Amendment.
"There is no easy answer to the WikiLeaks issue," Jeschke said.
Many Newspapers Make Leaks Work
If the media gets to vet leaked documents before publication, as OpenLeaks apparently plans, wouldn't that subvert transparency? Might media organizations give in to government pressure as the New York Times appparently did in the case of the warrantless wiretapping story?
"That depends on how many news organizations the leaks go out to," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "No one government controls all the media, so for example, if you hit Pravda and the New York Times with the information, the two are enough at odds that one of them will publish it."
Alternatively, OpenLeaks could make leaks selective, which might ensure their publication.
"If you give leaks about the U.S. to foreign media or leaks about a foreign government to U.S. media, the chances are that they'll publish the information," Enderle opined. "It's when you give the media information about their own country that they might step back."