Last year a website called WikiLeaks and a man called Julian Assange made the world’s most powerful governments quiver in fear. No army or diplomacy could stop revelation after revelation, as classified communiqués and documents were placed online for the world to read.
The goal of WikiLeaks, to reveal the truth, may have been noble, but it was criticised for putting lives at risk by revealing sensitive information. The dubious rape charges against Assange also dented the organisation’s image. But the idea of WikiLeaks has taken hold in the online sphere and a number of spinoff and imitation sites have started springing up.
Founded by ex-WikiLeaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg after his falling out with Julian Assange, this site shares the same transparency ideals as WikiLeaks. Many of its collaborators were part of the original organisation until they and Domscheit-Berg became frustrated with Assange’s despotic style. One of these key players is a brilliant programmer known only as “the architect”. The key difference between the two organisations is that OpenLeaks aims to verify and filter the information at its disposal rather than letting the public and journalists sort through it.
This site is focused on the dealings behind closed doors at the European Union headquarters, where lobbyists and diplomats jostle for position and prestige. Its organisers have remained anonymous probably for good reason. As they state on the site, “There are plenty of good people in powerful positions who too often see shocking information pass them by. How do we know this? We’ve been there.”
Owned and run by the Russian Pirate Party, RuLeaks is a WikiLeaks-affiliate that began as a home for WikiLeaks documents to be translated into Russian. This year, it started leaking its own information too, including pictures of a US$1-billion mansion built on the shore of the Black Sea and allegedly owned by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Within a day of publishing it, the site suffered a denial of service attack. It has subsequently posted a number of KGB and KNB, the Kazakhstan equivalent, archives.
Launched in January, the Al Jazeera Transparency Unit provides a secure platform where whistleblowers in the Arab world can submit information for Al Jazeera to investigate: “From human rights to poverty to official corruption, AJTU will fairly evaluate and pursue all leads and content submitted, without geographical, political, cultural, or religious bias.” Its first big leak was “the Palestine Papers“, more than 1 600 documents detailing negotiations between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority.
Founded way back in 1996 by independent scholars John Young and Deborah Natsios, Cryptome is not really a spinoff but rather a proto-WikiLeaks. It advocates freedom of speech with a focus on uncovering surveillance techniques used by governments and corporations, stating, “Cryptome welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide.”
Its 65 000 files include the names of suspected MI6 agents and photographs of American soldiers killed in Iraq. The site was temporarily shut down last year when it revealed a 22-page Microsoft document that told government agencies how to access the private data of all Microsoft customers.
Launching with the slogan, “the Balkans are not keeping secrets anymore”, Balkan Leaks is very much modelled on WikiLeaks, but is particularly concerned with exposing organised crime and political corruption. Unlike WikiLeaks, it only publishes documents once it has reviewed and checked them. Balkan Leaks was founded by Bulgarian expatriate Atanas Chobanov, a journalist and blogger who lives in Paris.
Institutions of higher learning have a proud history when it comes to scandals. Now deans and chancellors will have an even harder time covering up problems on campus thanks to UniLeaks. Launched by an anonymous group of Australians, the site’s pay-off line is, “Keeping education honest”. UniLeaks argues that because universities receive a large amount of public funding, the public and its students have a right to know how and why decisions are made. Although UniLeaks hasn’t broken a big story yet, it has already received the “entire email repository” of a prominent university in the UK.
Unlike WikiLeaks and OpenLeaks, GlobaLeaks doesn’t host a massive collection of documents on its site. Instead, it facilitates a distributed network of “nodes” that anonymously pass information between them, therefore obscuring the original source. It’s like Bit Torrent for leaked documents no single node has all the information so investigating or shutting down an individual node is pointless. It also has an additional layer of anonymity provided by the Tor Project, open source software that allows for anonymous internet transactions, so individual computer users can participate safely and easily.