Opening Up the Rabbit Hole

LEAKING a sensitive government document can mean risking a jail sentence – but not for much longer if an online service called WikiLeaks goes ahead. WikiLeaks is designed to allow anyone to post documents on the web without fear of being traced.

The creators of the site are thought to include political activists and open-source software engineers, though they are keeping their identities secret. Their goal is to ensure that whistle-blowers and journalists are not thrown into jail for emailing sensitive documents. That was the fate of Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced to a 10-year term in 2005 after publicising an email from Chinese officials about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

According to the group’s website, its primary targets include China, Russia, and oppressive regimes in Eurasia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. It is not limited to these countries, however, and people anywhere will be able to use the site to reveal unethical behaviour by governments and corporations.

Normally an email or a document posted to a website can be traced back to its source because each data packet carries the IP address of the last server that it passed through. To prevent this, WikiLeaks will exploit an anonymising protocol known as The Onion Router (Tor), which routes data through a network of servers that use cryptography to hide the path that the packets took. Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer based in Silicon Valley, California, explains it like this. "Imagine a large room jammed full of people in which many of them are passing around envelopes. How would you know where any of them started?"

The WikiLeaks team do not plan to control what is disclosed on the site, raising fears that the anonymity it offers could be misused. "The initiative could drown in fabricated documents, pornographic records or become hijacked to serve vendettas," warns Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington DC.

The safeguard against this, according to the WikiLeaks team, is that false postings will be sniffed out by users, who will be free to comment on what is posted."WikiLeaks will provide a forum for the entire global community to examine any document relentlessly for credibility," the site claims. WikiLeaks is raising funds and testing its software. It hopes tolaunch in February.

from New Scientist Press Release

From the Wikileaks site: "Wikileaks opens leaked documents up to a much more exacting scrutiny than any media organization or intelligence agency could provide. Wikileaks will provide a forum for the entire global community to examine any document for credibility, plausibility, veracity and falsifiability. They will be able to interpret documents and explain their relevance to the public."

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