Group Challenges Corporate Power, Government Secrecy With Crowd-Funded Transparency

"When a government becomes invisible, it becomes unaccountable," write Daniel Ellsberg and John Perry Barlow. (Photo: Ninja M. via flickr)

Group Challenges Corporate Power, Government Secrecy With Crowd-Funded Transparency

'We all have a stake in the Freedom of the Press Foundation'

A new organization launched Monday aims to fight government and corporate corruption by crowd-funding transparency journalism, and believes "that not only does WikiLeaks need to survive, it must be joined by an array of others like it."

The financial embargo of WikiLeaks catalyzed this new group, Freedom of the Press Foundation, whose co-founders include whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, and Rainey Reitman, founder of Bradley Manning Support Network.

Lawyer and Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald, who is on the board of directors of the foundation, writes:

The primary impetus for the formation of this group was to block the US government from ever again being able to attack and suffocate an independent journalistic enterprise the way it did with WikiLeaks. Government pressure and the eager compliance of large financial corporations (such as Visa, Master Card, Bank of America, etc.) has - by design - made it extremely difficult for anyone to donate to WikiLeaks, while many people are simply afraid to directly support the group (for reasons I explained here).

"Financial transactions are speech. The financial embargo was censorship - not just of WikiLeaks but of all of us who wished to donate to WikiLeaks," stated Barlow, who is also board member.

Explaining how the funding will work, Greenwald continues:

We intend to raise funds ourselves and then distribute it to the beneficiaries we name. The first group of beneficiaries includes WikiLeaks. We can circumvent those extra-legal, totally inappropriate blocks that have been imposed on the group. We can enable people to support WikiLeaks without donating directly to it by donating to this new organization that will then support a group of deserving independent journalism outlets, one of which is WikiLeaks. In sum, we will render impotent the government's efforts to use its coercive pressure over corporations to suffocate not only WikiLeaks but any other group it may similarly target in the future.

The first group of beneficiaries, Ellsberg and EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow write, are "the still-beleaguered WikiLeaks," as well as "MuckRock News, which streamlines Freedom of Information Act requests so that ordinary people can file them easily, The National Security Archive, which has been prying open the black boxes of classified information for years, and The UpTake, a combative Midwestern collective of citizen journalists focused on bringing transparency to state and local governments."

"So much of what impacts us happens locally and it's where information is most likely to be hidden or overlooked," said one of The UpTake's founders, Executive Producer Michael McIntee.

Explaining their effort to "crowd-fund the right to know," Ellsberg and Barlow write that "secure conduits for anonymously-provided documents that the citizens whose lives and liberties they impact have a natural right to see... are needed more than ever." They continue:

In 2011, the U.S. Government classified over 92 million documents, four times more than were classified under George Bush in 2008. Moreover, President Obama's Justice Department has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all the previous administrations combined.

When a government becomes invisible, it becomes unaccountable. To expose its lies, errors, and illegal acts is not treason, it is a moral responsibility. Leaks become the lifeblood of the Republic.

Urging support for the group, Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight center for digital media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite school of journalism and mass communication, writes that it is not just journalists who should care about the organization; "we all have a stake in the Freedom of the Press Foundation:"

The obvious question raised by the Freedom of the Press Foundation initiative is whether the payment systems will shut this off, too. If they do, they'll be punishing not just WikiLeaks, but the entire journalism ecosystem - and ultimately, your right to get the information you want and need. Will they extend the bad faith they showed two years ago?

That I even have to ask this question is evidence of the power of these centralized mega-corporations. They have far too much power, like too many other telecommunications companies and a number of others in the information and communications industries on which we rely more and more for our daily activities.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation can be a first step away from the edge of a cliff. But it needs to be recognized and used by as many people as possible, as fast as possible. And journalists, in particular, need to offer their support in every way. This is ultimately about their future, whether they recognize it or not. But it's more fundamentally about all of us.

In addition to Ellsberg, Barlow, Greenwald and Reitman, the board of directors includes Josh Stearns of Free Press, actor and activist John Cusack, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, founding partner and co-editor of Boing Boing Xeni Jardin and writer, activist, and lawyer Trevor Timm.

You can follow Freedom of the Press Foundation on Twitter and its website.

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