whistle header text

Repercussions of Online Leaks and Whistleblowing

Although information is information regardless of how it is leaked, the rise of the Internet has had a dramatic impact upon leaking information and whistleblowing. The Internet has made it much easier to leak confidential information. The cost and difficulty of leaking documents and information is at an all-time low, while the anonymity and ease of dissemination is at an all-time high. Internet based Leaks of information are not without their own issues and risks, however. Repercussions from these Leaks have been predicted and observed across the globe.

The Differences Between Offline and Online Leaks

The most striking difference between online and offline Leaks is the ease with which the documents can be leaked, published, and disseminated. Prior to the Internet and WikiLeaks, a whistleblower would have to find a news outlet or reporter that would, hopefully, protect their identity. Once a means of publishing while maintaining anonymity had been arranged, public exposure was not guaranteed. If the government discovered that information was being leaked, they could place an injunction on the publisher prior to the information being published. Additionally, the government could harass the publisher in an attempt to extort the identity of the leak. Even if the information was published and the Leaks anonymity remained intact, dissemination was not guaranteed. Widespread exposure and discussion of a leak could fail for a multitude of reasons.

The Internet and WikiLeaks, however, provide a quick, simple way to disseminate classified information with a robust level of anonymity. To leak information to WikiLeaks, a whistleblower or informant must simply visit their website and upload a document. WikiLeaks will take care of the rest of the process. If the source of information is exceptionally paranoid about anonymity, they can take extra precautions and use a service such as TOR – The Onion Router, spoof their MAC address, and or use an Internet service provider that allocates temporary, anonymous IP addresses. If WikiLeaks decides that the information is not important enough to publish or does not do so in a timely manner, the informant or whistleblower can take information into his or her own hands. They can upload the information to one of many anonymous file sharing sites or torrent sites and, using the previously described precautions, anonymously publish and disseminate the documents without any external assistance. What’s more, the ease with which these systems can be duplicated and mirrored drastically increases the resiliency of online whistleblowing and leaking when compared to its offline counterparts.

The one main detractor of online Leaks is the decreased level of vetting and self-censorship. Previously, a publishing organization would comb through most, if not all of the documents provided by an informant. They would redact any personal, dangerous information, and publish a summary of the leak. WikiLeaks self-censors and summarizes to an extent, and with recent Leaks (such as the war files and Cablegate) they have also made use of various news organizations to assist with the process. Regardless, the ease of dissemination and lack of oversight with online Leaks have a much greater potential for revealing dangerous information than their offline couterparts.

Repercussions of the War Files

Both of the collections of War Files that have been published have been astoundingly insightful, although the tangible repercussions have yet to be seen. The United States government predicted that there would be a rash of killings due to the unredacted, uncensored nature of the war files. Any actual deaths connected to the publishing of the war files have yet to be reported.

Repercussions of Cablegate

The leak of United States diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks was most likely one of the largest Leaks of classified diplomatic information ever. As such, the impact that they have and will have is so far reaching that it is difficult to quantify. Having stated that, the events that can be directly and indirectly linked to the revolution in Tunisia, which, in turn, triggered numerous other protests and revolutions throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

There was already unrest in Tunisia prior to Cablegate and the Tunisian Crisis. Tunisians knew of the rampant corruption in the government, however nothing had managed to provoke them to action. By many accounts, Cablegate was the catalyst that initiated the protests and riots that led to the eventual overthrow of the Tunisian government. In early January 2011, the Tunisian government attempted to block access to WikiLeaks and the cables, it was too little and too late. Some of the cables had managed to leak through, and the riots began. After the Tunisian government fell, the Egyptian riots began, citing the Tunisian revolution as a source of inspiration. After the Egyptian government began to weaken and crumble, the Yemeni riots began, citing the Egyptian revolution as a source of inspiration. Although it may be a stretch to directly attribute the riots and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to Cablegate, the release of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks was definitely an influential factor.

By: Ethan Lozano, Alan Joyce, Robert Schiemann, Adam Ting, Dominique Yahyavi