Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German technology activist and former spokesperson for whistleblower organization WikiLeaks, announced today that he has destroyed over 3,500 unpublished documents that used to sit on WikiLeaks servers until he and others left the organization and took the data with them in late 2010. According to a report by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel (Google Translate), which interviewed Domscheit-Berg, this data includes, among many others, a copy of the no fly list kept by the U.S. government, five gigabytes from the Bank of America and US intercept arrangements for over 100 internet companies.
According to Der Spiegel, Domscheit-Berg – who was the effective No. 2 at WikiLeaks after its founder Julian Assange – deleted the data and shredded any paper evidence to protect the sources who gave the data to WikiLeaks in the first place. Domscheit-Berg argues that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had been asking Domscheit-Berg to return the data, couldn’t guarantee that the data would stay safe.
In a statement, WikiLeaks argues that it tried to negotiate with Domscheit-Berg and that he has “repeatedly attempted to blackmail WikiLeaks by threatening to make available, to forces that oppose WikiLeaks, these private communications [the unpublished documents] and to which Mr. Domscheit-Berg is not a party.”
WikiLeaks is also trying to distance itself from Domscheit-Berg and argues that his “roles within WikiLeaks were limited and started to diminish almost a year ago as his integrity and stability were questioned. […] He is not a founder or co-founder and nor was there any contact with him during the founding years. He did not even have an email address with the organization until 2008 (we launched in December 2006). He cannot program and wrote not a single program for the organization, at any time.”
The relationship between Domscheit-Berg and Assange has been rather contemptuous for a while now. After leaving the organization, the German activist also wrote a book about his experience with WikiLeaks and Assange in particular. In it, he does not paint a very favorable picture of Assange. In addition, he also founded a competing whistleblower platform OpenLeaks, which went public last week. OpenLeaks, which plans to make its platform available to newspaper and other organizations, however, did not have a very smooth launch and was heavily criticized by a number of Wikileaks activists.
Why do Wikileaks/OpenLeaks keep sitting on documents like these. If the intent is to make things public, why do they feel they alone get the right to choose what and when?
@JonasEriksson To put it simply: Because releasing information without processing it can put individuals lives at risk.
One example: The no-fly list, which Daniel apparently deleted, will contain full personal details of many completely innocent people who (for whatever reason) have ended up on that list. Putting their names and details out there will instantly make them a target for anyone with the belief that they're terrorists, both amateur "hacktivists", right-wing crazies, and other governments.
I agree with you that Wikileaks is acting like an unaccountable censor, but the alternative is worse.