Whistleblowing made easier . . . not necessarily safer

Wikileaks

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Whistleblowing is going digital. Later this month a website will be launched that promises those with government or corporate information a way to share it anonymously. The site will be called Wikileaks. Already it has critics wondering who's behind it and just how anonymous it will really be. Nancy Marshall Genzer has the story.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Time was, you had to go through piles of documents to find your smoking gun. You know, like Julia Roberts' character did in the movie Erin Brockovich when she went after a factory for polluting the water.

Michele Tingling-Clemmons is a real life whistleblower who lost her job after she exposed cronyism in the former Washington, D.C. mayor's office.

She was inspired by movies like Erin Brockovich, but Tingling-Clemmons worries that, like Hollywood, Wikileaks will overlook the perils of whistleblowing.

MICHELE TINGLING-CLEMMONS: You know, if you're used to getting up and going out and going to work and doing things every day, you've got to figure out, how are you going to function, what are you going to do?

Wikileaks says its whistleblowers won't leave any cyber fingerprints so they don't have to worry about getting caught. But Dylan Blaylock of the Government Accountability Project says that online cloak of secrecy has some big holes.

DYLAN BLAYLOCK: There might only be one office with access to this document that's been posted on the Web. Management might then say, I know it was somebody in this office, I'm going to go ahead and retaliate against everybody.

And speaking of anonymity, who's behind Wikileaks?

The site says it was founded by scientists and Chinese dissidents whose stated goal is to help expose government corruption, especially in Asia and developing countries.

Call the number listed under "contacts" and you get this recording:

[ "Thank you for calling Wikileaks.org. Send your inquiries to Wikileaks@wikileaks.org." ]

I did send an e-mail and got a message back wishing me and my family well but adding that, Wikileaks isn't seeking media exposure.

One rumor about the site is, it's a front for the CIA. Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org, is skeptical.

PATRICE MCDERMOTT: I doubt that's the case but that possibility is there. And even if they're not behind it, the possibility of them planting information on it, I think is high.

Whoever's behind the site has promised to launch it this month. Wikileaks says it's already received more than a million documents.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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