Wikileaks defectors to launch Openleaks alternative

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Wikileaks' former second-in-command is gearing up to launch an alternative to the high-profile website.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who left the site after disagreements with its founder, plans to launch Openleaks in the coming months.

The technology, which can be embedded in any organisation's sites, will allow whistle-blowers to anonymously leak data to publishers of their choice.

Its founders say it will address problems they had with Wikileaks.

"We felt that Wikileaks was developing in the wrong direction," Mr Domscheit-Berg told BBC News. "There's too much concentration of power in one organisation; too much responsibility; too many bottlenecks; too many resource constraints."

He said that the team did not want the responsibility of deciding what was or was not relevant and what would be good for the organisation as a whole to publish.

"This is the wrong question and should never be asked."

Network effect

Unlike Wikileaks, Openleaks will not publish or verify material; leaving that role to newspapers, "NGOs, labour unions and other interested entities".

"We are trying to build a community of various organisations that need or have use for anonymously submitted information," former Wikileaks member Herbert Snorrason told the BBC.

Mr Domscheit-Berg, said the decision to be a "conduit" rather than publisher was made because of the team's experience at Wikileaks.

Image caption,
The idea came out of a project developed during the team's time at Wikileaks

"That was another constraint we saw - if your website becomes too popular then you need a lot of resources to process submissions," he said.

Instead, Mr Domscheit-Berg said the organisation would be a "technology provider", supplying anonymous online drop boxes for organisations.

"[Openleaks] aims to provide the technological means to organisations and other entities around the world to be able to accept anonymous submissions in the forms of documents or other information," said Mr Domscheit-Berg.

This would form a distributed network of submissions pages across the web, powered by Openleaks technology for keeping sources anonymous and documents secure.

Whistle-blowers would be able to submit documents to an organisation's site, which would then be available for them to use for an exclusive period, specified by the source.

"If after that time you choose not to publish the document yourself the document will be shared with the rest of the subscribers in the system," said Mr Domscheit-Berg.

"If you choose not to publish it, many other parties will receive the document - and we are pretty sure that one of them will publish it."

In addition to the technology, he said, Openleaks will offer legal advice to organisations about dealing with and publishing sensitive material.

Initially, the team will work with a handful of small organisations, with the aim of growing the project slowly.

Over time, he said, the group hopes the network of participating organisations will become more "diverse, complex and dynamic", which will afford more protection when dealing with sensitive material.

"With each new entity you are adding more nodes to the network; you're adding more complexity to the network so everyone is protecting everyone else."

The result, he said, would be "technically and legally very powerful".

'Evolutionary step'

The project was born out of an idea for a "Wikileaks button" that was developed before Mr Domscheit-Berg left the organisation. All of the team behind the project have now left Wikileaks because of disagreements about how the site was run.

Image caption,
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently in British custody awaiting an extradition hearing

"One of the main issues we see with Wikileaks today is that it has become too much about the project," said Mr Domscheit-Berg, who said he still supports Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

"It has become too much about self-promoting the project and self-promoting people involved with the project which is rather distracting from the content of the documents."

Mr Assange, in particular, has been criticised for his high-profile role; something he has said was necessary.

"I originally tried hard for the organisation to have no face, because I wanted egos to play no part in our activities," he recently told the Guardian newspaper.

"In the end, someone must be responsible to the public and only a leadership that is willing to be publicly courageous can genuinely suggest that sources take risks for the greater good."

One problem Openleaks may face is increased competition amongst a raft of established sites and new competitors - including Brusselsleaks - for documents from leakers. It may also need to establish its credibility, alongside the highly successful Wikileaks.

But Mr Domscheit-Berg does not think this will be a problem.

"I believe lots of people are aware of some of the issues that Wikileaks has right now and there is already some critical debate."

He said the site was already "drowning in contact requests" and that it would be targeting different material - for example documents from councils that local newspapers may be interested in.

"Way more people are sceptical about the direction Wikileaks are heading and see what we are doing as the right step into the future. So, I don't think credibility will be a problem."

To build further trust, he said, the group would establish a foundation in Germany to handle and publish its finances.

In addition, he said, the model they had chosen to use would mean that Openleaks would rarely be in the spotlight.

"We're not aiming for any front pages," said Mr Domscheit-Berg. "If anything at all, this organisation is to enable others to do that."

It has now launched a website which will detail the evolution of the project before it goes live in the coming months.

"We do not think that Openleaks will be in Wikileaks' shadow," Mr Domscheit-Berg said. "We are a completely different approach. We do not see ourselves as competitors - we are the next evolutionary step."

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