Wikileaks, the whistleblowers’ home, has been temporarily shut down while its management tries to raise funds.
Its tremendous success has meant the site has often struggled under the volume of users. It has faced down governments, investment banks and the famously litigious Church of Scientology but paying its operating costs (circa $600,000) has proved its undoing. As of today instead of reading government secrets and details of corporate malfeasance all visitors to the site will see is an appeal for cash. Anyone who cares about freedom of expression should dig deep.
Wikileaks, with its simple “keep the bastards honest” ethos, aims to discourage unethical behaviour by airing governments’ and corporations’ dirty laundry in public, putting their secrets out there in the public realm. The site won Index on Censorship’s 2008 freedom of expression award because it’s an invaluable resource for anonymous whistleblowers and investigative journalists.
Among Wikileaks’ recent triumphs are its publication of top-secret internet censorship lists. The blacklists from Australia, Thailand, Denmark and Norway demonstrate exactly how censorship systems are abused to suppress free expression. The Thai list featured sites criticising the country’s royal family and the Australian blacklist turned out to include a school canteen consultancy. Despite its child porn mandate, less than half of the Australian blacklist were linked to paedophilia. Also on the list were satanic and fetish sites, anti-abortion websites, and sites belonging to a kennel operator and a dentist. Publication highlighted the lack of transparency in the process and gave impetus to the “No Clean Feed” campaign which opposes the Australian government’s internet filter proposals.
But Wikileaks is not just a tool for journalists, it allows ordinary Kenyans to read a confidential report detailing the billions their former president allegedly siphoned from the country’s coffers. Its repository includes controversial military documents including the US rules of engagement in Iraq and an operating manual issued to army officers in Guantánamo Bay. It has put corporations on notice that the costs of unethical behaviour are immeasurable in PR terms because it amplifies the Streisand effect, the social media phenomenon that punishes those who use the courts to suppress or censor information, by ensuring it has a much wider reach.
Some have dismissed the site as a snooper’s charter. Many were outraged by its publication of Sarah Palin’s hacked emails which included private email addresses and Palin’s family photographs. These critics tended to overlook that the emails also provided clear evidence that Palin was using private email accounts for state business.
Wikileaks democratises news and information, allowing the public to access secret information that once would have been limited to the chateratti. Had the Trafigura case occurred five years earlier, most journalists would have been able to access the secret report at the heart of the case, but Wikileaks enables everyone to read it. The superinjunction taken out by Trafigura was so comprehensive that of 293 articles about the suppressed report, only 11 dared to link to it or told the public where they could access it. If Wikileaks didn’t exist, it is possible that Trafigura’s management may have clung to their injunction.
For fear of compromising its integrity Wikileaks doesn’t accept funding from corporations or governments. Instead, it relies on the public. If you want to read the exposés of the future, it’s time to chip in.