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A Wikileaks-type website for Appalachia

COMMENTARY | February 12, 2012

Activists, their eye on coal companies and government, encourage whistle-blowers to post documents online. They promise confidentiality and plan to act as a conduit to reporters.

By Jim Tobias

A group of computer programmers, freelance journalists and transparency activists in West Virginia has begun a Wikileaks type whistle-blowing website aimed at coal companies, government bureaucracies and establishment groups in Appalachia.

The project, Honest Appalachia, which is headquartered in Charleston, West Virginia, has been online for a month. It is set up so that contributors can anonymously post documented charges of government and corporate wrongdoing online.

“A whistleblower’s biggest risk is finding and communicating with a safe and reliable individual or institution,” said Garrett Robinson, the website’s lead programmer. “We’ve taken that risk and replaced it with a highly secure computer platform that strives for anonymity and identity protection in all of our dealings.”

The site’s software is set up to encrypt and route documents through servers while protecting the contributors’ identity. The organization says it has already received a number of documents from whistleblowers in the region. The documents are currently under review.

The plan is for the Honest Appalachia team to vet documents to determine their validity. The team will then reach out to reporters and editors in the region, offering news stories or leads to news stories.

“By working with journalists, we will get a second or third of fourth pair of eyes on the documents before they reach the public,” said project organizers, in a written statement on the website. “We will work with journalists to publish the documents as well, thereby reaching as wide an audience as possible and supporting local investigative journalists in their work.”

The organization also plans to assist other activists who may want to start similar websites. Honest Appalachia’s code is open source and its model is low-cost. The website was developed with a $5,000 grant from the Sunlight Foundation.

“There are dozens of localized whistleblower sites being launched in the wake of Wikileaks, but everyone is reinventing the wheel,” says Robinson. “By sharing our open source code, we hope to make it easier for activists with similar interests to start sites of their own.”

“The world has too many secrets for one website,” he said.


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