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December 14, 2010

In an interview with DW, OpenLeaks co-founder Daniel Domscheit-Berg compares his new site to WikiLeaks. He and other ex-WikiLeaks staffers want to democratize the process of leaking and whistle-blowing through this site.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg is a co-founder of OpenLeaks
Daniel Domscheit-Berg is a co-founder of OpenLeaksImage: cc-by-sa/andygee1

On Monday, the site OpenLeaks.org officially launched. Founded by former WikiLeaks staffers, including Daniel Domscheit-Berg who previously had been a WikiLeaks spokesperson in Germany, the site aims to provide an online drop box platform that many different sites can use. The site will also have a foundation and organization behind it that will lobby for whistle-blowing-related legislation in Germany. It also promotes clear transparency, in contrast to the shadowy WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, was arrested in London last week. To learn more about the site, Deutsche Welle spoke with Daniel Domscheit-Berg, one of the site's co-founders.

Deutsche Welle: So, what is OpenLeaks?

Daniel Domscheit-Berg: The OpenLeaks project aims at providing technology to parties all around the world to enable these parties to receive documents from anonymous sources. This will regard documents or any other kind of information that people would like to relay to news media organizations, to labor unions, to NGOs, or to whoever else with an interest in running a post drop in the digital world to get in touch with sources of material.

I think a lot of people are going to connect your background with WikiLeaks to this new project and see it as a spinoff, or perhaps even as a competitor to WikiLeaks. Is that your intention?

No, that is not the intention at all. The experience that I had at WikiLeaks and that others had is that the world actually needs more portals like WikiLeaks, more websites that enable people to distribute information, to disseminate information to the public.

Domscheit-Berg disassociated himself from WikiLeaks and Julian Assange due to disagreements in September 2010
Domscheit-Berg disassociated himself from WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange due to disagreements in SeptemberImage: Picture alliance/dpa

Is the idea that people would come directly to the OpenLeaks website just like they do now with WikiLeaks and drop information, or is the idea that the OpenLeaks platform itself could be used on other types of websites?

The OpenLeaks website itself will not have a submission mechanism. You cannot go to the website and submit a document. What we will do is provide the means to receive such documents to other organizations and then publish stories based on these organizations publishing these documents themselves.

How is OpenLeaks organized? What is its organizational structure?

We are still in development. We are just around 10 people working on this idea, on laying a fundamental basis for this project to start off. This will be kickstarted by explaining what we are to the public on our website. And at the same time, sometime in the next few weeks or months, we are going to start by creating a foundation here in Germany that will deal with the topic of whistle-blowing. So I think the whistle-blowing topic has enough momentum at the moment so that the public understands why it is important to have these mechanisms to enable people to make something immoral or something going on behind closed doors, to make that public. We are aiming at creating a foundation to support these people and to support technology to protect these people, and for these people to submit documents.

This foundation will support the OpenLeaks project and it will support whistle-blowing in general. In the near-term, we are looking into establishing the proper mechanisms, resonsibilities, processes and all these things that will make sure that the people in the board of that foundation will have a say in the critical decisions that need to be taken in the OpenLeaks platform. We are looking into incorporating all of this properly.

We don't want to expose that project to the same kinds of political pressure that the WikiLeaks project is suffering from right now. Because no one understands actually what the processes are, who is taking decisions, how the financials work and all of these sorts things are very obscure - where not even necessarily something bad is going on. These guys are asking transparency from everyone else but they are not transparent themselves. So I think a more open approach and a more organized approach is a better one because you are not going to fall prey to that kind of criticism.

OpenLeaks hopes to be a more democratic alternative to WikiLeaks
OpenLeaks hopes to be a more democratic alternative to WikiLeaksImage: picture-alliance/dpa

What implications does OpenLeaks have for whistle-blowers?

First of all, OpenLeaks enables whistle-blowers to communicate more directly or get in touch with a particular organization that they trust or one that would be interested in certain materials. On the other hand, I hope that it raises the profile of whistle-blowing also in such a way that we become more aware of the need of these laws to protect these whistle-blowers. In most parts of the world, and here in Germany for example, we have quite good protections for journalistic sources in such a way that a journalist does not have to testify against a source. We do not have laws that protect these sources.

Here in Germany we have had a lot of approaches where people have tried to establish a legal framework, but this has not been successful. So I can only hope that in the future this will become more obvious to the public that there is a need to give these guys a legal basis, too.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg wants the OpenLeaks foundation to lobby for whistleblower protection laws in Germany
Domscheit-Berg wants the OpenLeaks foundation to lobby for whistleblower protection lawsImage: AP

Essentially, you are putting that decision of what secrets to reveal and how to deal with these submitted documents out of the hands of OpenLeaks, and into the hands of Deutsche Welle, Der Spiegel or whichever organization is using your platform.

It's important to understand that there are mechanisms to make sure that if one media organization receives a document and they don't want to report about it, just because it's not politically convenient or there's an economic interest not to publish this, that there are mechanisms within the system that ensure that other people will get access to the document, too. So that's what you need to ensure, and what you need to understand as well. We are not trying to create a project that enables closed whistle-blowing systems.

We do not want to exclusively feed one media organization's archives, and we do not want to enable companies to enable whistle-blowing systems where they are informed about something that's going on in their company and they can get rid of the problem before it gets to the public. These are two things that we are not aiming at, at all.

So in other words, all of the OpenLeaks members potentially could have access to all of the documents from the others.

That is potentially correct, yes. The devil is in the details. What is certain is that the one who receives the document, initially, has an exclusive period of time where he can exclusively work with that material. And this is based on the experiences that we had with media organizations, because that is just the economy of how media organizations work.

But then again, that is something the source should specify, too. So, the source of a document should be able to say: 'I'll give these people four weeks, because it's a very complex topic,' or 'This is such a hot document and it's so important that this gets to the public immediately that they should only get 24 hours.' So, there are some dynamics of how this works in detail. But I think we have a very robust framework that will make sure that all the information that is put out will see the light in a way that is ideal for the source.

Interview: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Sarah Steffen