What happened to all the WikiLeaks offspring?

By Toby Manhire In Technology, The Internaut

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The New Yorker’s new whistleblower service.

EnviroLeaks. PirateLeaks. BrusselsLeaks. RuLeaks. QuebecLeaks. BaltiLeaks. And that’s just a few of them.

A couple of years ago, writes Cyrus Farivar at tech website Ars Technica, “a flurry of new WikiLeaks clones sprung up around the world inspired by the world’s most famous transparency-driven organisation”.

Most of these imitators have quietly disappeared, while WikiLeaks is essentially dormant, leaving barely a handful still actively publishing material.

“It’s not too much of a leap of the imagination to see more of these sites spring up to expose wrongdoing in different parts of the world and in different industries,” enthused a Next Web article back in 2010.

Why did most founder? “I think this points to the fact that what WikiLeaks did was fairly unique and probably a few years ahead of its time,” Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation tells Ars Technica.

It’s not as easy as it looks to set up an anonymous site that’s safe for its users. We may have seen more WikiLeaks sites become successful if the crackdown against WikiLeaks wasn’t so hard after the State Department cables. When WikiLeaks did what they did, despite not breaking any law, they were cut off from all sorts of finances and had a grand jury investigation opened against them. I think this created a chilling effect for other developers who would want to do the same thing.

 

One of the handful of survivors is Balkanleaks, which in February released the “Buddha dossier” – a “massive trove of secret documents from the national police archive”. Crucial to its success has been a piece of software – also beloved by WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange – that shields data from prying eyes.

Tchobanov, the site’s co-founder, boils it down to one word: Tor. It’s the open-source online anonymising tool that’s become the de facto gold standard for hiding one’s tracks online. Balkanleaks provides instructions in Bulgarian, Serbian, Macedonian, and English, and the submission website is only available on its Tor-enabled server.

“Tor is known and people trust Tor,” he added.

***

Since the Ars piece was published a couple of months ago, at least one significant new player has emerged seeking whistleblowers’ secrets – and it’s one of the most famous names in journalism.

Last week the New Yorker unveiled Strongbox, which was introduced by editor Amy Davidson like this:

This morning, The New Yorker launched Strongbox, an online place where people can send documents and messages to the magazine, and we, in turn, can offer them a reasonable amount of anonymity. It was put together by Aaron Swartz, who died in January, and Kevin Poulsen. Kevin explains some of the background in his own post, including Swartz’s role and his survivors’ feelings about the project. (They approve, something that was important for us here to know.) The underlying code, given the name DeadDrop, will be open-source, and we are very glad to be the first to bring it out into the world, fully implemented.

The New Yorker has always welcomed documents, but “over the years, it’s also become easier to trace the senders, even when they don’t want to be found”, writes Amy Davidson. “Strongbox addresses that; as it’s set up, even we won’t be able to figure out where files sent to us come from. If anyone asks us, we won’t be able to tell them.”

Mashable asks experts whether it might be the new WikiLeaks here.

Or, in the summary of Media Bistro, “The tool is designed to allow anyone to send a document, file, image, whatever, to the New Yorker, while keeping their identity a total secret. It’s basically WikiLeaks for pretentious people. Kidding!”

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