Digital whistleblowing and the moral highground

Should a whistleblower be paid for information? The creators of Darkleaks, a distributed, anonymous market for information, think so. The software allows anyone to upload information, list it for sale, and receive payments in digital currencies, such as Bitcoin, upon delivery. The information can be broken down into chunks so it can be verified prior to full payment.

The information released could be anything including: military secrets; local authority abuse scandals; details of government privacy invasions; naked photos of famous people; secret corporate research or technology.
Like much of the new internet, it uses anti fragile technology that is immune to the desires of lawyers or regulators to control it.

This, along with other forms of decentralised information exchange, is already changing our world. The fact that the most recent Apple OSX upgrade offers to fully encrypted your hard drive and lock it on standby might not have occurred if not for the Snowden revelations. Of course they may have installed back door access, but they are catering to potential markets, and I can personally attest to becoming more interested in consumer cryptography since his brave actions.

With regards to back doors, the move from closed software to open source will also be spurred on by open information. For if a company’s proprietary technology can be cracked and sold on the internet black market, companies are incentivised to develop open source software, making money on service, support and installation rather than the rights to install the code. The Linux distribution such as Ubuntu are backed by a private profitable company, yet the source code is free to all to inspect, copy and modify.
Will there be harm from these dark markets? Certainly there will. Hacks like the Sony crack revealed interesting corporate information, but also exposed medical information and details of many blameless employees. There is also the risk of blackmail – I may be perfectly happy with what goes on in my bedroom, but don’t want it to be videoed and streamed around the world. As ever there will be individual responsibility, both to protect one’s information, and to the person revealing the information for whatever reason.

A key benefit however is to resolve the asymmetry between individuals, who currently have no privacy, and governments or corporations, who have too much secrecy. By giving the tools to publish anonymously to the world, Darkleaks and other tools empower individuals and disintermediate the regulatory bodies that prosecute sole actors but are easily sidestepped by the powerful.

As to the question of payments for desirable information, this is nothing new. There have always been payments for notable, embarrassing or confidential data. In the past there were even paid professionals, whose job was to tease out such scoops, to question rather than reprint the official press releases, to rail at injustice, to undermine those who abused their state sanctioned power at the expense of individual freedoms, who looked at those in authority as someone who had to be brought down, not bowed to. They called them ‘journalists’.

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