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Imitators create new WikiLeaks sites

One, OpenLeaks, claims it has a better model than the original whistle-blower website.

Bradley Manning, the U.S. Marine charged with leaking massive quantities of documents to WikiLeaks, appears to have been caught because he boasted to another former hacker, Adrian Lamo, during a web chat.

OpenLeaks aims to start testing its system around mid-January and hopes to be fully operational by the middle of the year. It has about a dozen volunteers spread around the world. Snorrason declined to say whether any are U.S.-based.

The United States is examining whether it can extradite Assange on charges related to the leaked State Department cables. OpenLeaks believes it has an extra layer of protection from such prosecution because it will never actually handle or even lay eyes on the documents it is passing from source to publisher.

The system could leave OpenLeaks vulnerable to the charge that it is shirking responsibility for the leaks and any consequences that may arise — that it actually has too little power rather than too much.

“That is a risk,” Snorrason said. “But I would like to point out the legal principle of a legal conduit and the protections given to parties such as telecommunications companies and the post office, which is that they do not have legal liability for the content that goes through their system.

“So if you send drugs through the post, the post system cannot be charged for possession and whether or not this principle directly applies to us, we believe we can make the argument that it should at least be something very comparable.”

Unlike the postal service, OpenLeaks has an agenda, even if it sticks to its avowed political neutrality: It believes there are too many secrets.

Snorrason, who speaks perfect English in slow, deliberate, carefully-chosen sentences, acknowledges there is some information that should never be made public: a private person’s medical records, for instance, or information that would unequivocally endanger lives.

But, “the problem we are facing at present is not that too many secrets are being published,” he said.

Despite his differences with Assange, Snorrason said the WikiLeaks founder, who is now in England fighting extradition to Sweden on sex-related criminal charges, has on the whole been good for democratic societies. At the very least, he has helped inspire a movement.

Some of the new leaks outfits will disappear without a trace, but there are people out there who will become long-term activists. What that means for governments and corporations will become clear in the coming years, Snorrason said.

“It’s quite hard to know," he said. "This is still history in the making.”