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Chinese dissidents plan their own WikiLeaks

October 25, 2010

Choi Chi-yuk
South China Morning Post (SCMP)
October 22, 2010

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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