AfriLeaks gives truth a fighting chance
In 2010, United States intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning leaked 750 000 documents to the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks. These included diplomatic cables and videos of US airstrikes, which seemingly killed civilians. US military investigators quickly traced the leak back to Manning and, after a military trial, sentenced her to 35 years in prison.
She did not have access to a secure server to which she would have been able to upload the documents anonymously.
Like her, anyone wanting to share sensitive information with a newspaper has run the risk of detection by governments, companies or hackers.
But now whistle-blowers can leak documents and information securely to media houses on a website called afriLeaks.
This is a partnership between the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting, the Hermes Centre for Transparency and Digital Human Rights, based in Italy, and several media houses in Africa.
The Mail & Guardian and Oxpeckers, an environmental investigative unit, are the only South African publishing houses involved.
How does it work?
AfriLeaks is a website based in the Netherlands. As a would-be whistle-blower, you would go to secure.afrileaks.org.
The website explains the best way to protect your online identity, after which you click on the “blow the whistle” link. You can then upload files and a message, for example, for the M&G, which is notified that a leak has been submitted.
Unless you chose to reveal your identity, there is no way for the M&G to know who you are.
Because afriLeaks is hosted in another country means it is also safe from government subpoenas, and messages are destroyed after a month.
AfriLeaks was developed in the wake of revelations by the former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that security agencies were monitoring and collecting global communications. After that, whistle-blower websites were established in the Netherlands (PubLeaks) and Italy (MafiaLeaks), which have led to several arrests.
These work because nobody is able to trace who did the leaking, unless the whistle-blower used a normal internet browser.
Anonymity is best secured through the use of the downloadable Tor internet browser. Tor looks like a normal browser, but instead of linking your computer directly to the internet (where you can be traced) it bounces your connection through a network of computers around the world. This means it is impossible to trace the connection from afriLeaks back to your computer.
Your computer could be infected with malware that could trace your keystrokes, so it is recommended that you use another computer, perhaps in an internet café, or a secure operating system running off a USB stick.
AfriLeaks was launched last week and has already had a number of tip-offs.
For a whistle-blower with a secret, the best way of informing the media is still to meet a journalist in person, or to get a physical copy of the information delivered. If this is not possible, then afriLeaks is the next best way of getting in touch with a reporter.