Gathers sensitive information at scale and protects its sources.
WikiLeaks is not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s partly thanks to the controversy surrounding Julian Assange, its founder, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The controversy over Assange’s behaviour has been an unfortunate diversion from the way that WikiLeaks at its best created a new model to combine investigative journalism and whistle blowing for the digital age, in the name of transparency, free speech and better government.
In days gone by, a leak to a journalist might be a single photocopied document in a plain brown envelope. Thanks in part to WikiLeaks it is now more likely to be millions of emails on a USB stick.
WikiLeaks gathers so much information at such scale because it protects the anonymity of its sources using a high-security electronic drop box into which they can submit material. Then a small team of journalists deploys traditional investigative techniques to check the material’s veracity by cross checking sources. As well as providing a journalistic commentary, WikiLeaks specialises in making the original source material available in full. Its decision to do so, including not redacting names of informants from confidential documents, is widely criticised for putting people’s lives at risk. It is defended and supported by a network of volunteers, including prominent lawyers.
This model has delivered a torrent of embarrassing and controversial information that would otherwise be kept hidden, allowing us a clearer insight into the inner workings of those in power, from the two million emails sent between members of the Syrian elite, involving their dealings with Western companies, to the five million emails leaked from the global intelligence contractor Stratfor.
WikiLeaks, however, is not just about the cloak and dagger world of spying and surveillance. One of its most successful leaks was the mundane 10,000-page secret contract between the German Federal government and the Toll Collection Consortium which collects tolls from heavy vehicles.
It has also inspired others to emulate their approach: BalkanLeaks and RuLeaks are both currently active communities, bolstered by the profile WikiLeaks has achieved.
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Last updated: 09th of May, 2014