Tuesday, December 22, 2009

documenting misdeeds

NYTimes | It was a simple idea: use the power and elusiveness of the Internet to publish secret documents that someone, somewhere thought should be made public. And dare the government, any government, to shut you down.

Since its founding in late 2006, the Web site WikiLeaks.org has pursued that idea to the heights of commercial and political power — exposing internal memos about the dumping of toxic material off the African coast, the membership rolls of a racist British party, and most recently more than half a million pager messages from around the time of the 9/11 attacks, including some from government officials.

But the time has come for WikiLeaks, which calls itself “the first intelligence agency of the people,” to think locally, says Daniel Schmitt, a German computer engineer who is a full-time unpaid spokesman for the Web site. “We are trying to bring WikiLeaks more directly to communities,” he said in a telephone interview.

The organization has applied for a $532,000 two-year grant from the Knight Foundation to expand the use of its secure, anonymous submission system by local newspapers. The foundation’s News Challenge will give as much as $5 million this year to projects that use digital technology to transform community news.

WikiLeaks proposes using the grant to encourage local newspapers to include a link to WikiLeaks’ secure, anonymous servers so that readers can submit documents on local issues or scandals. The newspapers would have first crack at the material, and after a period of time — perhaps two weeks, Mr. Schmitt said — the documents would be made public on the main WikiLeaks page.

For an organization that publicizes hidden documents, WikiLeaks is adamant about protecting the anonymity of the document donors. “We maintain our servers at undisclosed locations, pass communication through protective jurisdictions, keep no traffic logs, and use military-grade encryption to protect sources and other confidential information,” the proposal reads in part. So unlike other online applicants, however, WikiLeaks cannot refer to a spike in Internet traffic in its pitch for itself.

“We are not really in a position to do that,” Mr. Schmitt said. “We have strong stands on anonymity and don’t have log files on users.”