Human rights groups and WikiLeaks itself warn that Government Leaks project is naive given China’s strict secrecy laws.
Attempts to create a “Chinese WikiLeaks” project could result in lengthy jail sentences for internet users who send sensitive materials, critics warned today.
The Government Leaks project says it believes that sharing secret documents will increase transparency and lead to political reform.
An unidentified representative said in an email that around 60 people, including well-known bloggers, were working on the project, although the need for anonymity makes it impossible to verify that claim. The site asks for donations to the project as well as documents.
Human rights groups and bloggers warned that the plan was at best naive given China’s strict secrecy laws. WikiLeaks has also expressed concern.
One mainland journalist, Shi Tao, is serving a 10-year sentence for leaking state secrets after he sent a document banning coverage of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests to an overseas pro-democracy site. He was traced via his email account.
“In China, we need basic trust to upload a secret because we don’t know whether it is a trap,” said Michael Anti, a well-known blogger.
Others thought the scheme so implausible it could be a hoax.
The Government Leaks representative said he was influenced by Watergate, WikiLeaks and Southern Weekend, a boundary-pushing Chinese newspaper.
In an email to the Guardian, he added: “We commit ourselves to political reform and making China a democratic country where people have rights to pursue happiness and freedom.”
Asked if he could provide any details of those involved, he said: “I haven’t seen anyone doubting our identity.”
He added that the Great Firewall would answer the question of whether the project was a trap – implying that if the site were blocked it would be clear the authorities disapproved.
WikiLeaks tweeted recently: “‘China WikiLeaks’ is unauthorised and insecure. Avoid! If well intentioned they will contact us.”
The representative said he tried to contact WikiLeaks via the three email accounts they listed but that his messages were returned as undeliverable.
He said the project would redact information where necessary, adding: “Like WikiLeaks we provide SSL encryption for uploading files, and we are also plotting Tor uploading. Both methods would protect the identity of leakers. We won’t locate any servers on the mainland, which would be a very stupid idea.”
However, leaking state secrets to overseas entities carries far more severe penalties than leaking them domestically.
Joshua Rosenzweig of the Dui Hua foundation, which works for the rights of detainees in China, said: “The extent to which Chinese police monitor the internet and the broad definition of state secrets and classified information in China makes communication of this kind of information risky.”
Corinna-Barbara Francis, China researcher for Amnesty International, said several individuals were already in jail for passing information to people overseas.
In a separate move, the Chinese government has launched a free satellite mapping service pitched as a rival to Google Earth.
The state bureau of surveying and mapping unveiled MapWorld yesterday. An official said it was still in development and that the service would update data twice a year, while Google Earth is able to do so every few minutes.
At present it seems to offer only high-altitude images for most locations outside China. That may be because the service is under development.
New regulations issued this spring require companies providing online mapping to have mainland-based servers and to register. Google has not yet applied for a licence, China Daily said. A Google spokesperson was not able to offer immediate comment.
The internet giant has had tense relations with the government since it said it would stop censoring search results in China following a cyber attack and increased pressure to remove results. It has since withdrawn its mainland search service, redirecting mainland users to its Hong Kong site, but its mapping service is still accessible.
A Google spokesperson said: “China recently implemented a wide-ranging set of rules relating to online mapping. We are examining the regulations to understand their impact on our maps products in China.”
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