I’ve been a (fairly quiet) critic of WikiLeaks for a long time, the core of the mission I agree with – information should be free, and should be preserved – but the implementation is deeply flawed. But then, that’s not really news is it? Two and half years ago when I last wrote about WikiLeaks, I pointed out that Julian Assange was the organization’s biggest problem. So what do we have today? A grand idea perverted into a political machine, and twisted by ego and delusions of grandeur.
More than two years ago I wrote this:
Assange has become a threat to WikiLeaks not because of the attacks against him, but because people see him as WikiLeaks.
Today, I would say that perception is correct – WikiLeaks has become an embodiment of Assange’s personality. In the public’s perception, the man and the organization have become one; his role as the singular public face of WikiLeaks has clouded the public’s vision and diminished the potential of the organization. While the reality may be different, if the public sees Julian Assange as WikiLeaks – it’s fate is tied to his.
Maybe this is what we deserve – but it’s not what we need.
The WikiLeaks We Need
What we need is an organization with many vocal advocates, but no singular leader. What we need is information to be free, and openly accessible to all – a resource for legitimate journalists, unopinionated and apolitical. It should have a governance structure that allows simple leadership changes as needed. We need a resource for repressed information – either secret information from oppressive regimes or by overzealous laws such as the DMCA. There’s a wealth of information that is being lost while WikiLeaks focuses on political goals and public relations.
What we need is larger than any one person, and thus not tied to their faults or failings – what we need is a mission that’s bigger than the people involved, bigger than the organization.
Here’s how I see it:
Governance: The structure should allow members of a governance board to easily come and go; no member should be critical to continued operation. Should a member be unable to serve or potentially become compromised, it’s critical that their position be transferred with as little organizational impact as possible. All votes, actions, and minutes of the board should be published; the organization should be fully transparent. The governance board should be responsible for certain operational & organizational decisions:
- Addition of new members to the board
- Addition of ‘official’ (i.e. trusted) mirrors
- Approval of new content (or delegation to trusted persons)
- Control of finances
Technology: Publishing should be distributed as possible, and use a lightweight front-end to minimize server load. A technology like Jekyll could be used to make as many of the pages static as possible (for security, performance, and cost reduction). Once a site update is released, it should be made available to a set of official mirrors to handle spikes in traffic and help mitigate the impact of a server going offline.
Content: As much legitimate information as possible should be published, but care must be taken to avoid publishing false or misleading information, or information that is clearly politically motivated. If there’s a public perception of political or ideological motivation, then trust is put at risk. Content that is potentially controversial or has potential legal ramifications should be put before a quorum of the governance board to vote on how to proceed.
Content should cover all legitimate repressed information – from highly technical system details so often attacked via the DMCA’s anti-circumvention clause, to the emails and memos that built WikiLeaks’ early reputation. A hyper-focus on any one topic or type of information causes other valuable information to be ignored, a mistake that must be avoided.
Finances: Financial reports should be regularly released to disclose how all donations are used. When money is involved, so is suspicion and mistrust – spending should be extremely conservative and fully documented.
Public Relations: While there should be many vocal advocates for both the organization and the mission, there should be no single person that is entrusted with control. The focus should be on the goal – the freedom and preservation of information – not the individuals involved, or even the organization itself; the organization is just to tool, a means to an end.
Will it happen?
What I propose is an organization without ego, without politics, with adherence to a single mission and complete disregard for all other influences. In other words, what I propose is nearly impossible. There are few that believe so strongly in the ideals of freedom and preservation of information that they could be selfless enough to serve on the board of such an organization without letting personal opinions and motivations get in the way.
What I propose would be a haven for whistleblowers and and those seeking freedom of speech – and no less of a target than WikiLeaks, and perhaps moreso due to expanding the focus to all legitimate information, not just the sole topic that WikiLeaks has adopted in the last couple years.
We live in a time where information is produced at a nearly incomprehensible rate, and yet far too much of it repressed – by bad laws and worse governments. Without those working tirelessly to make it freely available, it would remain unseen by most, and possibly lost forever. Work always needs to be done, and WikiLeaks as we now know it isn’t the answer.