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A New Tool Emerges to Spread Wikileaks Info

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, December 7 2010

French web developer Benoît Chesneau, who created a map to represent incidents from Wikileaks' previous leak of incident reports from the war in Afghanistan over time, is publicizing an Internet address to go to in order to download a copy of a CouchDB database of the leaked cables released so far using Tor, software that obfuscates the sources and origins of web traffic. CouchDB is a database system that makes it easy for someone running one database to copy data wholesale from another.

So even after Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in Britain and some of the organization's funding conduits — PayPal, Visa and Mastercard — have reportedly stopped providing it service, the documents that spurred this blowback can spread with relative ease.

Some people in government are actively seeking to cut Wikileaks' infrastructure out from under the organization. Some companies that formerly provided service to Wikileaks, such as Amazon, which provided web hosting, and Tableau, which allowed use of its free data visualization service, booted the organization from their servers only after calls from the office of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Amazon denies that this is the reason the company stopped serving Wikileaks.

Infrastructure like what Chesneau has established would allow continued, disintermediated access to the raw data that Wikileaks releases, even if major media outlets like The Guardian became unwilling to offer it, either.

CouchDB is built such that the owner of a database can make it easy for other people with CouchDB to make an exact replica of that database on their own server — meaning that one or any number of people can start providing copies of the so-called "Cablegate" documents straight from one of many Wikileaks mirrors, and other people can quickly replicate those copies.

Here's how the CouchDB docs explain it:

CouchDB is a peer-based distributed database system, it allows for users and servers to access and update the same shared data while disconnected and then bi-directionally replicate those changes later.

The CouchDB document storage, view and security models are designed to work together to make true bi-directional replication efficient and reliable. Both documents and designs can replicate, allowing full database applications (including application design, logic and data) to be replicated to laptops for offline use, or replicated to servers in remote offices where slow or unreliable connections make sharing data difficult.

Based on Assange's previous statements, what's been released so far — with one recent possible exception — has had names redacted since it was acquired by Wikileaks. If that's true, then the scores of citizen-publishers who are allowing Wikileaks to set up mirrors on their web servers or who might duplicate a database of the so-called "Cablegate" communications could do so without accepting responsibility for doing their own redactions.

But Assange has threatened to release more documents — that haven't been redacted to protect people and places named within — and while that's a scary thought for the U.S. government, one would imagine it also poses a crisis of conscience for the people who have rallied to Wikileaks' cause in the name of freedom of the press. The number of people capable of doing that is greatly increased thanks to the relative ease of use of tools like CouchDB — which, while it's produced by a single company, is open-source, for anyone to maintain or improve upon. These folks may well find that they can, in fact, distribute any information they'd care to, in defiance of a world superpower — but they would also be confronted with whether they should.