Dig deep for Wikileaks

The whistleblowers' website has been temporarily shut down as it appeals for donations, depriving us of a vital democratic tool

Wikileaks, the whistleblowers' home, has been temporarily shut down while its management tries to raise funds.

Its tremendous success has meant the site has often struggled under the volume of users. It has faced down governments, investment banks and the famously litigious Church of Scientology but paying its operating costs (circa $600,000) has proved its undoing. As of today instead of reading government secrets and details of corporate malfeasance all visitors to the site will see is an appeal for cash. Anyone who cares about freedom of expression should dig deep.

Wikileaks, with its simple "keep the bastards honest" ethos, aims to discourage unethical behaviour by airing governments' and corporations' dirty laundry in public, putting their secrets out there in the public realm. The site won Index on Censorship's 2008 freedom of expression award because it's an invaluable resource for anonymous whistleblowers and investigative journalists.

Among Wikileaks' recent triumphs are its publication of top-secret internet censorship lists. The blacklists from Australia, Thailand, Denmark and Norway demonstrate exactly how censorship systems are abused to suppress free expression. The Thai list featured sites criticising the country's royal family and the Australian blacklist turned out to include a school canteen consultancy. Despite its child porn mandate, less than half of the Australian blacklist were linked to paedophilia. Also on the list were satanic and fetish sites, anti-abortion websites, and sites belonging to a kennel operator and a dentist. Publication highlighted the lack of transparency in the process and gave impetus to the "No Clean Feed" campaign which opposes the Australian government's internet filter proposals.

But Wikileaks is not just a tool for journalists, it allows ordinary Kenyans to read a confidential report detailing the billions their former president allegedly siphoned from the country's coffers. Its repository includes controversial military documents including the US rules of engagement in Iraq and an operating manual issued to army officers in Guantánamo Bay. It has put corporations on notice that the costs of unethical behaviour are immeasurable in PR terms because it amplifies the Streisand effect, the social media phenomenon that punishes those who use the courts to suppress or censor information, by ensuring it has a much wider reach.

Some have dismissed the site as a snooper's charter. Many were outraged by its publication of Sarah Palin's hacked emails which included private email addresses and Palin's family photographs. These critics tended to overlook that the emails also provided clear evidence that Palin was using private email accounts for state business.

Wikipedia democratises news and information, allowing the public to access secret information that once would have been limited to the chateratti. Had the Trafigura case occurred five years earlier, most journalists would have been able to access the secret report at the heart of the case, but Wikileaks enables everyone to read it. The superinjunction taken out by Trafigura was so comprehensive that of 293 articles about the suppressed report, only 11 dared to link to it or told the public where they could access it. If Wikileaks didn't exist, it is possible that Trafigura's management may have clung to their injunction.

For fear of compromising its integrity Wikileaks doesn't accept funding from corporations or governments. Instead, it relies on the public. If you want to read the exposés of the future, it's time to chip in.

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Comments in chronological order (Total 29 comments)

  • This symbol indicates that that person is The Guardian's staffStaff
  • This symbol indicates that that person is a contributorContributor
  • Contributor

    29 January 2010 5:14PM

    Well, tis pay day... I enjoy it, so once I can work out how the debit/creditcardless can do it I will...

  • Dymphnm

    29 January 2010 5:18PM

    I was modded on this site purely for mentioning wikileaks. Purely for mentioning it.

    I was effectively banned (pre-mod) for posting a link to it. re: trafigura.

    You'll excuse me if I find the idea of CiF championing this site as opportunism and ever so slightly hypo<censored>.

    Anyhoo ... unlike CiF I will practise what I preach - as soon as I can find an anonymous way to do so ! </censored>

  • ianrthorpe

    29 January 2010 5:30PM

    @ Imogen,

    In view of Dymphnm's comment, I may be a bit behind the times but the usual way of conducting clandestine transactions used to be cash in a brown envelope behind the cistern in the end cubicle of the men's toilets at Waterloo Station :-)

  • Contributor

    29 January 2010 5:32PM

    ianrthorpe - I wish I could do it that way.. would be easier than wading through bank speak! How does one go about achieving a direct wire transfer?

  • eightsandplaces

    29 January 2010 5:36PM

    Great article. Wikileaks is a fantastic tool in helping to stave off the creeping popularity of super injunction type laws.

  • Staff

    29 January 2010 5:40PM

    @ imogenblack I donated through Paypal. It seemed safest.

    @ Dymphnm I have to defend my former employer here. The terms of the injunction against the Guardian were such that they couldn't allow any links to Wiki to stand. The mods - on GU's lawyers advice - were on high alert. Carter Ruck would have taken the paper to the cleaners and we all know what the Guardian's finances are like...

  • Contributor

    29 January 2010 5:44PM

    Emily - Can I use paypal with no debitcard? (Not a security thing for me, I just don't have one!) This direct wire thing seems awfully complicated... (yes, I am actually from the 1900's..!)

  • Staff

    29 January 2010 5:49PM

    @ imogenblack I'm not 100% but I think you can have one without a card if you link it to your bank acount.

  • Contributor

    29 January 2010 5:50PM

    Oooo!!! Emily, if that is the case you have just told me a peice of information that makes my month...! I shall check it out... ta!

  • blazzers

    29 January 2010 7:13PM

    Ho, hum...can't help thinking that if the mainstream media weren't completely gutless (and quite often worse than that - actually complicit in hiding the stuff the powerful would rather keep quiet) we wouldn't need a Wikileaks.

    Want an example?

    Why is it that an independent FOI campaigner was responsible for starting the ball rolling on MPs' expenses? Is it, perhaps, because the journalists who claim to hold the political class to account are pretty much bought and paid for?

  • ianrthorpe

    29 January 2010 7:47PM

    @ Imogen,
    There was something they used to do n the old cowboy films my grandad took me to see. It unvolved a clerk with one of those green shades over his eyes tapping a metal key on a desk.

    As for Pay Pal I can half confirm Emily. We linked it to a bank account to receive payments. Can't say about paying, I've never paid for anything on Pay Pal. I can't see why not though.

  • ianrthorpe

    29 January 2010 7:51PM

    @ Imogen,
    Unvolved - I'd better explain before someone picks me up on it. It is obscure eighteenth century strret sland used by ladies of negotiable affection to suggest they are emotionally detached from what they are doing. LOL

  • DonkeyLogic

    29 January 2010 8:22PM

    I have donated - but I wasn't 100% sure about it...maybe 90%.

    I knew Assange had an auctioning mentality to get the stories out via the busiest channels - but that has a lot of "associations" about it. The 'net, in this vein, maybe has to be viral and open. I am not sure about paralleling your org to that of the established press , who have lost most of their guts to publish ( and be damned). Toe-ing the line so much, could, eventually, draw your ordg into the mainstream(ish) flow. Ultimately that can lead to self-editing, which is not the spirit of revolutionary publishing against the establishment.

    There's other ways to keep the taps open ( server slice donation, machines, pure sauce etc - which some of us already donate) Anyway - best of luck to them for now.

    Imogen - this is not your own twitter stream - if you cannot work out simple financial processes, maybe you should spend some dedicated time on the web, for yourself.

  • Contributor

    29 January 2010 8:53PM

    If I may strike a slightly dissonant note, why shut down all their archive while they make their point? It has a slightly blackmail feel about it.

    Also, it's not £600,000 a year to run. It is (they say in their FAQs) £200,000... which seems high for server rental etc since they admit they have no premises costs. They say it would be £600,000 a year if their five full time, currently volunteer, staff took a salary.

    So they want £80,000 a year each, on average.

  • EvilTory

    29 January 2010 9:13PM

    "Carter Ruck would have taken the paper to the cleaners and we all know what the Guardian's finances are like..."
    Emily, might I suggest that you publish anyway and claim public interest? CarterFuck are the scum of the british legal establishment, as anyone who reads Private Eye knows very well. IWhy not sue them for restraint of trade?

  • shazthewombat

    29 January 2010 10:02PM

    29 Jan 2010, 5:18PM

    I was modded on this site purely for mentioning wikileaks. Purely for mentioning it.

    Me too, re the BNP membership list.

  • Cybermoth

    29 January 2010 10:58PM

    I believe that Wikileaks founders are also trying to get a law change in Iceland
    Youtube Link
    They have been chased and had gagging orders that means that they have to switch the website content from one country to the next. Iceland if they can get the law implemented, will at some point be accepted into the EU and the EU will have to accept that Law. In the US, Europe and UK, Governments have been trying to stop wikileaks from publishing what it does.

  • BigNowitzki

    29 January 2010 11:49PM

    The whistleblowers' website has been temporarily shut down as it appeals for donations, depriving us of a vital democratic tool

    I'll bear that in mind when The Guardian is embarrassed by a wikileak.

    Remember, everybody has something to hide......

  • Danot

    30 January 2010 1:24AM

    It has faced down governments, investment banks and the famously litigious Church of Scientology but paying its operating costs (circa $600,000) has proved its undoing.

    With a couple of hours to spare, a broadband connection, a free dynamicdns account, a free copy of WAMP anyone could run the wikileaks site on their own home pc.

    Anyone with a minumum of technical skill could dust off an old PC, install linux and have a fully configured web server at no cost at all.

    Many people have excess capacity on hosted web servers that they would happily make available to a cause like this.

    This hydra approach would ensure that organisations like the Church of Scientology would generate huge legal costs playing "whackamole" as a hundred new wikileaks sites pop up every day all across the world.

    It works for bittorrents. Even with their best efforts, the closure of a web site or the loss of a tracker by media industry lawyers has never had any significant effect on bittorrent traffic.

  • Danot

    30 January 2010 1:34AM


    Also, it's not £600,000 a year to run. It is (they say in their FAQs) £200,000... which seems high for server rental etc since they admit they have no premises costs. They say it would be £600,000 a year if their five full time, currently volunteer, staff took a salary.

    £1,200 a year would cover a hosted web server capable at a data centre.

    All the content is generated by the site users, technical maintenance shouldn't take one person more than an hour a day.

    That leaves about £580,000 for legal fees.

    So basically cif is having a whip round for a firm of lawyers.

  • bigsands

    30 January 2010 6:54AM

    It always amazes me how easily people donate their hard earned cash and how difficult it can be to raise funds for business ideas.

    At the moment I'm trying to raise £40'000 for a cutting edge music album and it is a very slow process.

    Having said that, I do make donations each year to some charities and allow reduced rates for charitable events.

  • Littleorangedogs

    30 January 2010 10:13AM

    Despite loving the idea of wikileaks, I'm not sure whether I should donate - would the Guardian please do everyone a favour and wikileak the breakdown of wikileaks' claimed operating costs so we can all make up our minds whether they're justified?

  • yepandthattoo

    30 January 2010 12:02PM

    Source evaluation is vital. I despise the blind/purple [whatever] approach to whistle blowing [computers just ain't that great]. I guess it has to happen sometimes. I'm guessing half of it is total bull and cash.

  • LordSummerisle

    30 January 2010 5:55PM

    Whatever the accuracy of their operating costs, from what I've seen of Wikileaks so far they are well worth a £20 punt.

    I wish them well and I wish them luck, they've made some very big enemies.

  • gaialive

    30 January 2010 6:28PM

    In the penultimate paragraph, you mention Wikipedia, when in fact you mean Wikileaks. You probably need to amend that mistake, to avoid confusion.

    It's great to hear that The Guardian is supporting the campaign to generate funding for Wikileaks, but could your support not be slightly more constructive?

    It's all well and good writing an article which appeals to the minority that know or would like to know, but given the importance of Wikileaks as a unique defender of freedom of information, The GUardian should put it's head above the parapet and get more actively involved.

  • Flanaramaman

    30 January 2010 10:08PM

    I wonder what upstream speed your ISP provides and how soon they would come down on you for the number of connections being made into your home.

    Wikileaks is bound to have heavy traffic which would require more than one server for access let alone what would be needed for redundancy. Also the nature of the site means they need protection from the likes of DoS attacks and, as they do, hop from country to country to avoid being shut down.

    They wouldn't ask for 200,000 if it wasn't what was needed. Given the paranoid nature of their readers this has bound to have been mentioned on many occasions.

  • TimH

    31 January 2010 6:52PM

    There's no idea I'd donate to this without knowing more about how they spend their money. Where's the breakdown of their costs? They are all about transparency, after all...

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