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IFEX members regret WikiLeaks's decision to release all cables unredacted

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is once again in the centre of controversy after WikiLeaks’s decision to publish its full archive of 251,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables unredacted
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is once again in the centre of controversy after WikiLeaks’s decision to publish its full archive of 251,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables unredacted

REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

IFEX member Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has temporarily suspended its WikiLeaks mirror site following WikiLeaks's decision to publish its full archive of 251,000 U.S. diplomatic cables without redactions, citing concerns for the safety of confidential sources whose names have now been made public.

RSF said in a statement dated 1 September that the organisation took the decision to suspend the site while the protection of sources "is in question." The mirror site was set up last December as "a gesture of support" when the Wikileaks site was under attack.

RSF said it has "neither the technical, human nor financial resources to check each cable" which has now been published, and, therefore, has to "play it safe."

"On the one hand, some of the new cables have reportedly not been redacted and show the names of informants in various countries including Israel, Jordan, Iran and Afghanistan.

"While it has not been demonstrated that lives have so far been put in danger by these revelations, the repercussions they could have for informants, such as dismissal, physical attacks and other reprisals, cannot be neglected," said RSF.

Index on Censorship, which supports the principle behind whistleblower initiatives such as WikiLeaks, also regretted the publication of the unredacted cables.

John Kampfner of Index on Censorship commented, "Sites such as WikiLeaks will continue to emerge, and will have an important role to play. But they should be operated with a great duty of care, both to whistleblowers and to individuals who may find themselves in danger after irresponsible leaks of diplomatic, intelligence or other material."

Early this year Index expressed its concern to WikiLeaks over reports that unredacted documents had been made available to the Belarusian dictatorship, and that WikiLeaks lacked the background knowledge to properly spot risk to individuals who were named in confidential documents.

While ARTICLE 19 agreed that media organisations - including WikiLeaks - have an obligation to protect their sources, it said the work of WikiLeaks is still valuable - "even with the leak."

"The most recent disclosures have created a new interest, unleashing new disclosures that are in the public interest," said ARTICLE 19.

A search for IFEX in the cables reveals six matches, including a complaint made by Tunisia's Deputy Foreign Minister for the Americas and Asia, Saida Chtioui, to the U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, Gordon Gray, about "the many 'insulting' things about Tunisia IFEX wrote that appeared in the press."

Despite the suspension, RSF will continue to post information on its WikiLeaks page about the release of cables relating to media freedom and about developments concerning the WikiLeaks site.

WikiLeaks published the entire cache of leaked cables last week after it was revealed encrypted files containing the unredacted cables were available online through the file sharing network BitTorrent. Only 20,000 of the cables had been published prior - through five media partners - the "Guardian", "The New York Times", "El País", "Der Spiegel" and "Le Monde" - who worked with WikiLeaks to carefully select and redact documents.

WikiLeaks blamed the "Guardian" for the security breach, claiming its investigations editor David Leigh "negligently" disclosed the passwords to the encrypted cache in a book published earlier this year.

The "Guardian" strongly denied responsibility. It said while the password was published in a book in February, it was only ever intended to be a temporary password which would expire within hours.

Index's Rohan Jayasekera noted that the process of publishing secret documents is "not technical at all, but about protective, supportive, sustaining relationships between people who give and receive information in secret."

"The current over-reliance on encryption fails to take into account human fallibility… The true successor to WikiLeaks will find that protecting the people that provide the information that gives their work a point adds up to more than just lines of code," he added.

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