Have WSJ and Al Jazeera Already Ceded the Espionage Debate?

EFF has a report on the terms of service WSJ and AJ offer leakers using their WikiLeaks competitor sites. I had already heard that WSJ offered almost no technical security (which EFF describes), but it turns out neither offer much in the way of confidentiality guarantees.

Despite promising anonymity, security and confidentiality, [Al Jazeera Transparency Unit] can “share personally identifiable information in response to a law enforcement agency’s request, or where we believe it is necessary.” [WSJ’s] SafeHouse’s terms of service reserve the right “to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities” without notice, then goes even further, reserving the right to disclose information to any “requesting third party,” not only to comply with the law but also to “protect the property or rights of Dow Jones or any affiliated companies” or to “safeguard the interests of others.” As one commentator put it bluntly, this is “insanely broad.” Neither SafeHouse or AJTU bother telling users how they determine when they’ll disclose information, or who’s in charge of the decision.


By uploading to SafeHouse, you represent that your actions “will not violate any law, or the rights of any person.” By uploading to AJTU, you represent that you “have the full legal right, power and authority” to give them ownership of the material, and that the material doesn’t “infringe upon or violate the right of privacy or right of publicity of, or constitute a libel or slander against, or violate any common law or any other right of, any person or entity.”


SafeHouse offers users three upload options: standard, anonymous, and confidential. The “standard” SafeHouse upload “makes no representations regarding confidentiality.” Neither does the “anonymous” upload which, as Appelbaum pointed out, couldn’t technically provide it anyway. For “confidential” submissions, a user must first send the WSJ a confidentiality request. The request itself, unsurprisingly, is neither confidential nor anonymous. And until the individual user works out a specific agreement with the paper, nothing is confidential.

Similarly, AJTU makes clear that “AJTU has no obligation to maintain the confidentiality of any information, in whatever form, contained in any submission.” Worse, AJTU’s website by default plants a trackable cookie on your web browser which allows them “to provide restricted information to third parties.” So much for anonymity!

I’m fascinated by this not just because they obviously won’t provide a real alternative to WL, but because of what they say about the evolving gatekeeper relationship of news outlets.

Keep in mind that both these outlets make curious candidates for a WL competitor.

For its part, WSJ would be unable to sustain its unique market position if it routinely offered corporate whistleblowers–particularly from the finance industry–a way to leak confidentially. Its demand that leakers represent that they have not violated the rights of any person, its warning that it might share information on leakers with requesting third parties, and its intent to safeguard the interests of others all sounds like WSJ is more interested in its corporate advertisers and the security of their information than protecting whistleblowers. Indeed, you might even say this is more of an ambivalent information service WSJ offers, potentially luring (say) Bank of America leakers who might otherwise leak to WL, possibly for stories, but possibly also to share with BoA.

Then there’s al Jazeera. Particularly since it is not US-based, and given its tie with the Qatari government, one would assume that they such a site would be closely monitored. The US has a long history of persecution of AJ, including imprisoning and killing journalists. Perhaps it’s not surprising how few protections it offers.

And all that’s before you consider the fact that the US government is trying to prosecute WL for espionage. Murdoch is in the middle of a spying scandal in the UK; AJ journalists have been treated, unfairly, as terrorists. That makes both somewhat vulnerable. And the USG has declared an entity that publishes anonymous leakers to be spy organizations, not something either WSJ or AJ need.

Which is why I find it so interesting that these two outlets, while claiming to do the same thing as WL did, fall so far short of attempting to offer true anonymity to their sources. Here, the protection accorded leakers is actually less than a traditional journalist would offer. It’s as if they’re ceding the US government argument that anonymous leaks are so much worse than the leaks from the powerful so often featured in outlets like WSJ.

Or perhaps they’re just trying to reinforce their traditional gatekeeper role while attempting to undercut the competition?

Updated for syntax and to fix WSJ/Murdoch conflation.

  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Imagine that, we just discussed the US government’s penchant for corrupting sources by intimidating them into cooperation. I wonder what it has on these two, and what their non-secure data receiving protocols will reveal about those attempting to give them information.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The WSJ’s “terms of disclosure” are really statements that say, “Tell me, tell my government, same difference”. It also seems to be saying it has joined the war against whistleblowers in a big, cooperative way. Only someone as underwhelming as Adrian Lammo would give it information under those terms. It would also behoove the WSJ’s competitors to refuse it cooperation and information, too, lest it deconstruct the data in attempts to reveal its original sources and methods of retrieval.

    I wonder if this is one of Murdoch’s attempt to get out from under the possibly quite large and severely damaging investigation into his News of the World’s illegal data collection and use processes used in the UK, which it strongly denies, of course. Murdoch’s earlier claims that those illegal practices were used by only a few bad apples were first tarnished, then withdrawn. One of the questions being asked is how widespread among news media in the UK or elsewhere those practices were and are.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This Guardian article on Sienna Miller is a tiny, tiny part of Murdoch’s troubles over illegal phone and computer tapping in the UK, which may have spread far beyond Murdoch’s titles. It would be unsurprising if he persuaded the WSJ, in the words of English crime novels, to help the police with their enquiries.

  4. scribe says:

    Don’t be surprised, to the foolish saps who actually dislose to Murdoch, that WSJ will then assert a copyright interest in the material disclosed and hide it behind their paywall, after cooperating with the government and copying them on all of it, of course.

  5. milesscott says:

    The major new outlets suffered from the Hosni Mubarak News Syndrome . The country going to hell in a paper bag . You know never know it from watching the main stream news.They just smiling face liars that take up allot valuable time. Allot of valuable information comes from a lot of Blogs.If the Blogs site become famous,they turn around and sell it. Anyone’s’ name come to mind?

  6. dopeyo says:

    IIRC, Al Jazeera is primarily funded by the Emir of Qatar. apparently, owning your own TV network is something of a status symbol among the emirs and potentates and assorted grand poohbahs in that corner of the globe.

    Most americans can’t watch Al Jazeera, unless they have a device such as a “ROKU”, which will stream Al Jazeera English in real time from the internets to your tv box. It was invaluable for watching the Cairo demonstrations.

    it can also be watched on your internet-connected computer.

    • bell says:

      saban haim http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haim_Saban was reportedly in talks to buy up to 50% of it a few years ago, but the fact is their the ownership of aj is opaque apparently for a good reason, or because they don’t have to reveal who is calling the shots… qatar is an interesting country for a lot of reasons, not to mention it is essentially a type of dictatorship where a version of modern day slavery is still practiced and it is quite a wealthy country…

  7. papau says:

    Stopping criticism of the NSA – and any other spy agency or activity that might embarrass Obama – may be job one.

    The current persecution of Mr Drake – a former senior executive at NSA — a “senior change leader” — who called the agency insular and was disillusioned with the agency’s handling of major technology programs and concerned that the NSA was needlessly violating Americans’ privacy through a massive surveillance program adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, may point to how Obama wants to use our defense assets.

  8. Synoia says:

    The WSJ should just outsource the database to the NSA. That would save expense by reporting the information directly to the US Gov.

    Or to a Gov contractor who could then “monetize” the information (and sell it to the US Gov).