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Chinese dissidents plan their own WikiLeaks
SCMP[Friday, October 22, 2010 14:47]
By Choi Chi-yuk
(South China Morning Post)

A group of Chinese dissidents plan to launch their own version of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks to expose central government secrets and promote democracy.

The organisers have signalled their intentions through social networking sites such as Twitter. They aim to launch “Government Leaks” on June 1 next year and they are calling on people to upload confidential government information to their database.

“I think by making government secrets open we can promote democracy in China. This is a fight against the dictatorship, and to return the right to information to the people. I believe it will advance China’s political reform,” said the founder of the website, who identified himself as “Deep Throat” when talking to the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) .

Deep Throat said a team of professionals had been aseembled to run the site, including journalists, editors, lawyers and hackers – who would help defend against possible cyberattacks.

The founder said he was inspired by Watergate, the US scandal of the 1970s, and the success of WikiLeaks, which gained worldwide recognition after it published a massive trove of US intelligence documents relating to the war in Afghanistan, a move that infuriated the Pentagon and energised opponents of the war.

Ironically, the founders of WikiLeaks include some Chinese dissidents, according to its website, and it has recently launched a Chinese language version. The Chinese WikiLeaks has not so far published any sensitive information on the Beijing government though.

Deep Throat said at first he tried to form a partnership with WikiLeaks. “I sent them a letter on October 1, to all three e-mail accounts listed by WikiLeaks. I told them that I wanted to co-operate with them. But the e-mails never went through as their system was always down. I ended up with three undelivered e-mails in my box,” he said.

“Government Leaks has no relations with WikiLeaks, but you can call us the copycat version of WikiLeaks in China,” he said.

Unlike WikiLeaks, which is based in Europe where the freedom of speech and rights to information are guaranteed by the European Union’s constitution, Government Leaks would inevitably anger the central government.

Many technology-savvy net activists on the mainland feel Government Leaks is too open in its approach. They say the idea is naive and dangerous. Some fear it could become a trap for the authorities to round-up whistle-blowers.

John Kennedy, the Chinese language editor of Global Voices Online, who is more widely known in China by his pseudonym Feng 37, described it as “a blind man riding a blind horse” – a Chinese idiom of things doomed to fail.

Kennedy, a Canadian national, said five out of the seven e-mail service providers of Government Leaks are based on the mainland – meaning they would be subject to severe surveillance by the authorities. “No one would send them anything, except those stupid guys,” he said. He also criticised the website for lacking encrypted links to protect informers.

Another mainland net activist, calling himself Zola, also questioned if the security technology of Government Leaks could provide enough protection to whistle-blowers. “In the worst case, the informer could be prosecuted for illegally possessing state secrets,” he warned.

He cited the example of mainland journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2005 for leaking state secrets. Shi was incriminated by the central government after the authorities obtained a secret document he sent to an overseas website through a mainland-based Yahoo China server.

Deep Throat said informers’ safety would be treated as the most important issue. Government Leaks would not use normal e-mail accounts to communicate with informers. It is also studying encrypted technologies to receive reports. “We will also keep contacting WikiLeaks and see if they can help,” he said.

Another challenge for the website is verifying information and fact checking. Deep Throat said he would invite well-known public figures to help authenticate documents.

“We are not formally launched yet. But once the site is up, we will definitely run things through them before publishing them.”

Since making the open call for information a few months ago, Deep Throat said Government Leaks was receiving four or five documents on average each week.

But he said most of the information would hardly be considered classified. “Some are out-dated. Some is actual information that is available on the internet. So far we have got only one document that really fits the bill.”

Zola said he would not send any sensitive information to Government Leaks unless he was 100 per cent certain about safety.

He does not suspect Deep Throat’s motives and background, but he is sceptical over Government Leaks’ ability to overcome the daunting technological and legal challenges it faces.

“They have got to have the right mentality in terms of the seriousness of security in the first place. Then they have a chance of being in full command of the network technology. Only then, can privacy and, hence, the safety of both the website operators and potential informers be secured.”

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