Friday, January 14, 2011


In a New Yorker profile, Julian Assange describes WikiLeaks as “an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis.” According to the article, WikiLeaks “receives about thirty submissions a day, and typically posts the ones it deems credible in their raw, unedited state, with commentary alongside.” Assange says: 
I want to set up a new standard: “scientific journalism.” If you publish a paper on DNA, you are required, by all the good biological journals, to submit the data that has informed your research—the idea being that people will replicate it, check it, verify it. So this is something that needs to be done for journalism as well. There is an immediate power imbalance, in that readers are unable to verify what they are being told, and that leads to abuse.
WikiLeaks sources (cables?), however, are “scrubbed” “to insure that no digital traces embedded in them can identify their source.” This raises interesting questions about authenticity, which is fundamentally a matter of trust—trust in the people, processes, and institutions that transmit a source. For more on the topic of trust and the role of institutions, see section 2.3 of the digital forensics report I posted about last month.

Update: More on WikiLeaks, from “Dealing With Assange and the Secrets He Spilled” (The New York Times): 
I think the impact of WikiLeaks on the culture has probably been overblown. Long before WikiLeaks was born, the Internet transformed the landscape of journalism, creating a wide-open and global market with easier access to audiences and sources, a quicker metabolism, a new infrastructure for sharing and vetting information and a diminished respect for notions of privacy and secrecy. Assange has claimed credit on several occasions for creating something he calls “scientific journalism,” meaning that readers are given the raw material to judge for themselves whether the journalistic write-ups are trustworthy. But newspapers have been publishing texts of documents almost as long as newspapers have existed — and ever since the Internet eliminated space restrictions, we have done so copiously.