Creating Technology for Social Change

The Role of Technology and the Media in Whistleblowing

Whistleblowing has been the subject of recent controversies due to the rise of WikiLeaks and other whistleblowing websites. These websites mark a new form of whistleblowing only possible because of the Internet and computers as well as connected media partners worldwide. However, whistleblowing has relied on technology and media for a long time. Cryptome has accepted documents online for sixteen years. Daniel Ellsberg used a copier to copy the Pentagon Papers so he could give them to the New York Times. Muckrakers relied on the printing press to spread their findings.

The technology involved in whistleblowing has changed drastically over time. At its most basic level, writing and speech could be used to convey information about wrongdoings. The printing press and radio eased the spread news. Copiers allowed whistleblowers to copy documents and give them to the press. Computers and the Internet make it easy to disseminate information and upload leaked documents. Easy uploading means the rise of leaking, mass release of millions of documents the whistleblower might not have even read. How does this change the process of whistleblowing? Tor, encryption, and other security and anonymity technologies help protect whistleblowers, journalists, and anyone who wants to read leaked documents.

Just as the role of technology in whistleblowing has changed over time, so too has the role of the media. Whistleblowers often report their findings to the media in the hopes of the situation gaining visibility and being corrected. Sometimes this is after going through established channels within the organization, sometimes before. Leaking organizations often work with partners in the mainstream media. Instead of going directly to the mainstream media, whistleblowers can now send documents to an organization that processes them and works with many media organizations worldwide. Increasingly, citizen journalists have also been tasked with examining and writing about leaked documents.

For my Intro to Civic Media project, I would like to examine this changing process of whistleblowing. Specifically, I want to review past whistleblowing cases, policies, and studies in the area to lay out a general whistleblowing process and examine how the role of media and technology changes in that process over time. I will also look at the pros, cons, and ethics of whistleblowing in its different forms.

Additionally, I would like to explore the modern whistleblowing process and how technology and participatory media can be used to improve the effectiveness of whistleblowing while protecting those involved.

To start this, I will review current studies, papers, and articles on whistleblowing. There are many of these out there. Papers range from covering a specific organization to aspects of the whistleblowing process in general. A few people have even written their theses or dissertations on the topic. I would also like to talk to some of the people who have done research on whistleblowing.

I will also examine the processes modern leaking organizations use to protect whistleblowers, reduce harm from releases, process documents, and release information as well as the role of the media (mainstream media, citizen journalists, and participatory media).

Finally, it could be an interesting exercise to construct a model of an improved high-tech whistleblowing process based on my research and findings.