Via David Carr, New York Times:
[T]he primary threat to the future of WikiLeaks and other like-minded organization has less to do with hacker zeal or organizational specifics than it does with information dynamics. It is as basic as supply and demand: There has never been a shortage of willing recipients of classified or private information that has significant news value, but leakers with both the motivation and access are far more rare. A great deal of leaking takes place on a retail basis, as any city hall reporter will tell you. But giant data dumps don’t happen often because many factors have to align: an aggrieved party; access to a large, consequential stash of documents that are of public importance; and a gap in security big enough to allow the lifting of such documents.
Let’s concede that WikiLeaks, whatever its excesses, represented a genuinely new paradigm for transparency and accountability. It became a fundamentally different and powerful whistle, one that could be blown anonymously — or not, as it turned out — to very remarkable effect. Whistle-blowers in possession of valuable and perhaps incriminating corporate and government information now had a global dead drop on the Web. Traditional news organizations watched, first out of curiosity and then with competitive avidity, as WikiLeaks began to reveal classified government information that in some instances brought the lie to the official story.
But while WikiLeaks reduced the friction in leaking secret documents, it did not reduce the peril to those who might choose to do so. Part of the promise of WikiLeaks was that it would eliminate digital fingerprints. While those efforts seemed to work, military prosecutors were nonetheless able to tag Pfc. Bradley E. Manning as a suspect using traditional investigative measures. Private Manning, who is accused of leaking many of the more important WikiLeaks documents, is being held in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., accused of “aiding the enemy.” His presence there is a stark reminder that despite campaign promises about openness and transparency in governing, the Obama administration has a very hard-line approach when it comes to state secrets, one that has not only affirmed the Bush administration’s approach, but has done so with renewed focus. Just 17 months into his administration, President Obama had already prosecuted more alleged leakers than any of his predecessors.
A few notes: Carr points out that individual news organizations have followed the WikiLeaks lead and implemented anonymous-style drop boxes for whistleblowers to submit documents to. Notably, the New York Times, Al Jazeera and the Wall Street Journal. In theory, this means that if WikiLeaks as an organization doesn’t survive the idea it spawned will.
However, the promise (or the threat, depending on perspective) of WikiLeaks is that it bypassed the guardianship of traditional news publishers in determining what was news. And as a stateless operation, it didn’t withhold information that a national news organization might because of national security “sensitivities”.
WikiLeak alternatives have sprung up, of course. OpenLeaks is the most well known but industry and state specific versions are now available as well. These include TradeLeaks, BalkanLeaks and RuLeaks (Russia) among others.