What Wikileaks means
1. Radically improved the incentive for potential whistleblowers.
The is achived by three important innovations, legal, technological and credibility.
Legally, Wikileaks channels received information through various jurisdiction to take advantage of the strongest press protection laws around the world. According to Wikileak:s
“Online submissions are routed via Sweden and Belgium which have first rate journalist-source shield laws. In Sweden, not only does the law provide protection against any official inquiry into journalists’ sources, but it allows a source whose identity has been revealed without permission to initiate criminal prosecutions against an unfaithful journalist who has breached his or her promise of confidentiality.”
Technological, Wikileaks established a permanent and untraceable cyber leak submission service. Wikileaks submission page allows potential whistleblowers to access it via various urls, and the server that host it are physically located is various locations around the world, which in effect render it impossible to shut down. Wikileaks submission technology does not keep any information that will allow submission to be able to trace back to its submitter.
Credibility, Wikileaks establish its self as a trust destination for wide exposure of sensitive information through its pristine record of protecting the identity of its sources, breaking of a high profile news (collateral murder, Afghan/Iraq War Diaries) and the fact that wikileaks is an outsider operation funded by non-corporate donators. This kind of credibility tells potential whistleblowers that the treatment of their submission wont be influenced by the kind of established power that they are trying to expose. This is perhaps the most important rationale for the existence of WIkileaks because most of its alternative in mainstream media are own by corporations and are entrenched with established power. See the difficulty for Daniel Ellsberg to get anyone to publish The Pentagon Papers.
The combination of legal and technical anonymity and credibility significantly reduce the cost (risk) and increase the reward (high profile exposure) for potential whistleblowers.
2. Establishing a legitimate avenue for hackers to publish confidential information of public interest anonymously.
This is the side-effect (or conspiracy theorist may suggest the original intention) of Wikileaks. It is no where specified that submitter has to have legitimate access to the information they are submitting. If the source of leaked information does not necessarily have to come from an insider, it will make it more difficult for the exposed organization to track down the leaker.
3. Insert the threat of public exposure into the consciousness of corporate boardrooms and government offices.
This threat will grow more powerful as Wikileaks emerge as a permanent and widely accepted institution. This threat means the powerful cannot reliably believe their action can stay as a secret when it is against the public interest. Knowing this may deter the powerful from doing thing they cant publicly defend.
4. Promotion of “scientific journalism”.
Scientific journalism is the idea that journalist should make the raw material that form the bases of their report available to audiences for verification purpose. Widely adaptation of this principle will bring more raw material into light and make it easier to separate the good journalist from the bad.
If we believe that transparency in governments process will make war less likely, then WIkileaks work in transparency should at least deserve a mention as a contender for Nobel Peace Prize. Or consider this, would Vietnam War have gone as it did if the The Pentagon Papers had a timely release? Would the US and its “coalition of the willing” had jump in to Iraq if we it was known to the public that there is no substantial evident of Iraq’s nuclear weapon programe or any link between Iraq and 9/11 attacks? In 2006, Nobel Commitee recognized the role of economics in promoting peace and gave the Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus for his work in micro finance. I hope in 2011 they will do the same for journalism and transparency.
More leaks please.
What hinders Wikileaks’s works (other than propagandas against them) is they do not have enough volunteer Journalist to analyse their huge backlog of submissions. Going forward, Wikileaks could remedy this problem and become even more irreplaceable by offering their submission service to other journalists and news organizations. To do this, submitters could nominate non-Wikileaks journalist or news organizations to handle the submitted information and or Wikileaks can develop journalistic partners to outsource reporting and analysis to. This will greatly speed up the publishing of submitted information. Other journalistic organization will also gain by having leaked information channel through Wikileaks’ submission service to shield them from potential lawsuits from thus freeing their hands to work on news they would otherwise have give up due to fear of legal retribution.