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Dutch newspapers announce joint whistleblower website11 September 2013, by Alexandra Gowling
A new site has just been launched in the Netherlands by a collaboration of 15 of the country’s top newspapers and media groups.
Publeaks, now open for business, allows Dutch whistleblowers to securely and anonymously leak information to the press. According to one of its partners De Volkskrant, the initiative is intended to protect whistleblowers, denounce abuse and stimulate investigate journalism.
How to leak
For anyone who wants to leak sensitive information, it is now simply a matter of going to the Publeaks site and uploading images, audio or text via the secure network Tor. The sender can choose which newspaper or news provider (or more than one) to send the information to.
According to Publeaks, the organisation has no access to the leaked files, does not publish anything itself and has no means of identifying informants. It is up to the journalists to verify the leaked materials, find sources to support the content and speak to all sides before publishing anything.
Each news organisation has a dedicated laptop (with a USB containing an operating system) to download leaked data into a "quarantine area" where metadata is removed along with other identifying information.
Journalists can ask questions of the anonymous informant on a secure part of the site. The informant can then decide whether or not to answer. Journalists who receive material through Publeaks will know which other media outlets have received the same material and can decide whether or not to work together.
Privacy and anonymity
Publeaks is based on the GlobaLeaks software package developed by the Hermes Centre for Transparency and Digital Human Rights. It uses Tor, a software that obscures the origin and destination of internet traffic.
Publeaks recommends that whistleblowers also use Tor, to maximise their privacy. Full safety, however, cannot be guaranteed, only a "reasonable degree of anonymity."
The 15 newspapers and outlets participating in Publeaks are AD, De Correspondent, De Groene Amsterdammer, De Volkskrant, Het Financieele Dagblad, Het Parool, NOS Nieuws, NRC Handelsblad, Nieuwsuur, Nu.nl, Pownews, RTL-Nieuws, Trouw and Vrij Nederland.
How they will all work together is something the newspapers admit will have to be seen in practice. This sort of broad journalistic co-operation in protecting sources is the first of its kind anywhere.
There are two names that are absent from the list, however: De Telegraaf and Elsevier. Arendo Joustra, editor of Elsevier, said that he did not know there was a problem with whistleblowing that needed solving.
"Whistleblowers are certainly able to come to us," he said. "It is quite strange to think that people who throw everything out onto the street are the good guys.
"This is facilitating people who break the rules. I also think that the media is stronger through competition and not through co-operation."
Need for transparency
Whistleblowing is a contentious issue. Governments commonly come down heavily on people who leak government information, as in the cases of Chelsea Manning to Wikileaks and Edward Snowden to The Guardian. Dutch newspapers, however, feel that sources must be protected wherever possible.
"Media contributes to society by uncovering hidden abuses," said editor of De Volkskrant Philippe Remarque.
"With Publeaks, whistleblowers can put us on the right track without risking themselves. As journalists we then have a duty to investigate whether it is true. We need to find more sources and avoid unnecessary disclosures that may harm others."
Thumb photo by Flickr user stevendepolo