The Wall Street Journal is getting into the (non-profit) business of secure, anonymous document submission. Today they launched SafeHouse, their version of the electronic drop box, similar to WikiLeaks.
Few issues have elicited a stronger response - on both sides - than the importance or criminality of WikiLeaks. Proponents say that it provides the people with a right that they are oftentimes denied: transparency. Free information activists say that transparency leads to more scrutiny of government and corporate actions, thus reducing corruption.
But WikiLeaks has incensed many State departments and corporations. They say that sometimes, documents are classified for a reason. Many opponents say that WikiLeaks threatens national security by releasing documents that contain sensitive information.
But most journalists fall into the first camp, and it looks like the Wall Street Journal wants to promote the secure exchange of important information for the public consumption.
Here is what SafeHouse is looking for, according to the site:
Documents and databases: They're key to modern journalism. But they're almost always hidden behind locked doors, especially when they detail wrongdoing such as fraud, abuse, pollution, insider trading, and other harms. That's why we need your help.
If you have newsworthy contracts, correspondence, emails, financial records or databases from companies, government agencies or non-profits, you can send them to us using the SafeHouse service.
All submissions can be anonymous, unless the submitter wants to provide contact information. The WSJ makes it clear that providing contact info will make it much easier for them to do their jobs. But, anonymity is what allows the really juicy stuff the ability to see the light of day, as people are sometimes scared to publicly report wrongdoing at a high level.
The managing editor of WSJ.com Kevin Delaney spoke to the Atlantic about SafeHouse:
"It grew out of a conversation that a number of our editors had. Our sources had always given us documents. That could have been a printout in a park or something that they faxed us. Now, clearly there is a digital context for reporting and that means we need a modern infrastructure so that sources can send documents to us."
Besides anonymity, security is the other issue people are worried about when it comes to online document drop boxes. Delaney says that although they can't offer total security (it is on the internet, remember), they can offer beefed up security.
SafeHouse's servers are separate from those that run WSJ.com. Document transfer is encrypted, both in regards the the connection and the documents themselves. Only a handful of staffers will be able to solve those encryptions. SafeHouse will also minimize the time documents are housed on computers that are connected to the internet.
Like any anonymous document submission service, it will be a full time job separating the credible from the non-credible and the pertinent from the rest. And the WSJ is going to see their share of looney along with the good. They ask that users not submit press releases, letters to the editor or feedback about the WSJ.
Only time will tell whether SafeHouse will truly benefit the journalistic prowess and relevance of The Wall Street Journal.