A brief introduction
Wikileaks is considered to be a jourlnalistic, international non-profit organization whose primary aim is to publish secret and classified information in order to be able to make it availavle to the masses. Established in 2006, the website managed to leak over a million secret documents to the public. The website and the organization is often credited to be the brainchild of Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist.
Over the course of the years, Wikileaks has managed to leak highly confidential information which has made international news. This includes the revelation of equipment expenditure as well as holdings in the Afghan War, footage that showed an AH-64 Apache helicopter airstrike in Baghdad in 2007 which killed Iraqi journalists, over 75,000 documents relating to the Afghanistan War and a report regarding an investigation into corruption in Kenya.
History of Wikileaks
Wikileaks was established as a website on 4 October 2006. The first document which was published by the website was on December 2006.Â The website has generally been represented by its founder, Julian Assange, in the public since the start of 2007.
Wikileaks is generally reliant on its volunteers and has often described its founders as being a mixture of journalists, startup company technologists and Asian dissidents. However, as the years have progressed, it has adopted a more traditional approach and no longer allows user comments or edits.
It is pertinent to mention that despite the similarity in the name, Wikipediea and Wikileaks are not affiliated with one another. Furthermore, Wikileaks has stopped following the â€˜wikiâ€™ format for its publication since 2010.
Reasons for existence
The Wikileaks websites states that its goal is to bring important and pertinent information and news to its readers and the general public. It considers one of its most significant activities to publish the original source documents and material along with the news in order to allow its readers to determine the veracity of the truth.
Another aim of Wikileaks is to ensure that journalists can share classified information without being arrested or jailed. Its online dropbox is self-described as being a safe and anonymous way to share secret and classified information.
Wikileaks has always been an ardent supporter of freedom of speech, with Julian Assange claiming that it is the freedom of speech which allows the public to regulate Congress. In fact, he further argues that the importance of this principle can be seen in the fact that the Constitution has forbidden Congress from passing any law that limits the freedom of the press.
Legality of Wikileaks
The legal status of Wikileaks is anything but straightforward. Julian Assange considers it to be a protection intermediary; whistleblowers leak information to Wikileaks instead of the press, after which Wikileaks reveals it to the press. In this manner, the whistleblowers are able to avoid retribution which would be almost certain if they leaked the information to the press themselves.
The website has several servers which are located throughout Europe and are accessible by anyone from uncensored web connections. The headquarters of the organization are located in Sweden, mainly due to Swedenâ€™s laws protecting source-journalists relationships. The organization has often stated that it does not solicit documents or secrets from anyone.
Potentiality of criminal prosecution
When Wikileaks began leaking diplomatic cable, the U.S. Justice Department started initiating criminal prosecution against Julian Assange and the organization. This was later confirmed by Attorney General Eric Holder who confrirmed that the investigation was ongoing.Â The department considered charging them under the Espionage Act 1917 which was criticized by many due as being extremely difficult due to the freedom afforded to the press according to the First Amendment.
Prosecutors have also taken into consideration the idea of pursuing charges against Assange for trafficking in stolen governmental property but due to the nature of the diplomatic cable being intelligent rather than physical, this idea will also be difficult to implement successfully.
Australia has not yet specified which laws, if any, have been broken by Assange and Wikileaks. Instead, the country has decided not to comment on this until formal charges are brought against Assange.
As mentioned earlier, Wikileaks published its first documents in December 2006. The document was an agreement to kill officials of the government which was signed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. In 2007, The Guardian published a story regarding the corruption of Kenyan officials; the story was pieced together by using documents published by Wikileaks. The website also published documents insinuating wrongdoings by the Cayman Islands branch of Swiss bank Julius Baer, which then sued Wikileaks, resulting in the suspension of its domain for a temporary period.
In 2009, Wikileaks released telephone intercepts of officials involved in the Peru Oil Scandal. It further AsWikileaks.Â Later, it released more than 500,000 messages sent on the day of the 9/11 attacks.
In 2010, the website released the aforementioned footage of an airstrike killing Iraqi journalists. The video also showed the US forces firing on the family who had come to collect the bodies, which is considered a war crime.
In addition the millions of documents already released, Wikileaks has further announced its intentions of continuing to publish sensitive documents. This includes a video of the US army massacring Afghani civilians as well as disclosures which are said to pertain to Russia.
Julian Assange has been lauded by many for establishing Wikileaks while simultaneously coming under heavy fire from others regarding his organization. It is obvious that as long as Wikileaks exists, it will remain a controversial subject.
However, it is important to note that the primary purpose of Wikileaks is to ensure that all information is available to the general public. The fact that most critics of Wikileaks are governments whose clandestine and often illegal activities have been revealed by Wikileaks shows that Wikileaks may be an important facet in regulating governments.
It is also distressing to note the lengths to which the governments, especially the U.S. government, have gone in order to stop Wikileaks. They have often overruled the concept of freedom of speech and freedom of press in their attempts to stop the organization.