Anonymous leaks in the Internet Age

A new Web site holds potential for greater transparency in government.

Reporters’ hushed phone conversations with anonymous government and corporate sources may have been the only game in town for news leaks in the past, but a new Web site is angling to change all that. It’s Wikileaks.org, and while the site is still in the development stages, it could become for leaks, well, the next Wikipedia.

Other than name derivation, the Web site has no relationship with Wikipedia, but it’s based on much the same principle: People, in this case employees of companies and governments – those privy to information that organizations may desperately want to keep secret – should have a way to post what they know anonymously, without fear of retaliation.

While the freedom of the press is so well established that it’s nearly taken for granted in the United States, the Web site’s true goal, according to its mission statement, is to make a difference in parts of the world where that right is far from a reality. They target regimes in Africa, ex-Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Middle East and China in particular. The Web site was founded by Chinese dissidents.

The Web site will not be limited to only the most egregious offenders of free speech, and there will be a way to post for countries, such as the United States, that have a free press. After all, not every story leaked to the press is followed up on or published. While sexual predators in Congress will have endless amounts of ink spilled about them, complicated issues that may not capture the public’s imagination have a harder time getting into print.

Certainly, at this stage some questions appear to be unresolved, such as the Web site’s policy towards information posted that may be a legitimate national security risk, or a way to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the importance of the information. According to The Washington Post, Wikileaks argues that the same self-policing that works on Wikipedia will work for it. However, we see promise for greater transparency in government with this Web site, especially in the regions of the world that need it most.