Iceland Looks to Create Information Haven

According to recent statements by an Icelandic member of parliament, described in a post at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab blog, that country’s government plans to put forward legislation on Tuesday that could create an international repository for leaked documents, exposed corporate and government secrets, and other information provided by investigative journalists and whistle-blowers alike. If that sounds a lot like what the Wikileaks web site does, it should — the founders of Wikileaks have been instrumental in pushing Iceland to make the proposal.

Iceland has been receptive to such ideas because the country’s economy has been shattered by the recent banking crisis, which many believe was the result of government incompetence and exacerbated by corporate and governmental secrecy. It led to a change in government and a series of legislative moves to protect whistle-blowers, freedom of information, etc. It’s not clear how the Wikileaks founders got in contact with Iceland’s political representatives, but talks have reportedly been continuing for some time.

Wikileaks has been engaged in a struggle for funding to carry on its non-profit crusade to expose corporate and government corruption and ineptitude, a crusade that has gained a high profile through such incidents as the Trafigura scandal in Britain, the release of thousands of text messages sent during the 9/11 attacks, and a case involving former presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s email account. Wikileaks recently said it had received enough financing to continue operating.

On a somewhat ironic note, given the freedom-of-information slant of the news, the Nieman Lab post appears to have broken an embargo on the story to which some other parties had agreed. Nieman Lab head Josh Benton justifies his decision in a comment on the blog post, saying that: a) he didn’t agree to any embargo, b) the information involves a government and is therefore newsworthy and arguably not subject to embargoes, and c) the information is already widely known.

Although it’s not clear whether the proposed legislation will be successful in Iceland, the Nieman Lab post says the idea has the support of the leaders of the Left-Green Movement, the Social Democratic Alliance and the Citizen Movement, representing a total of 38 of Iceland’s 63 parliamentary seats. In the video below, from the 26th Chaos Communications Congress — an annual hacker conference held in Berlin — two of the founders of Wikileaks describe their vision of what a freedom-of-information haven in Iceland might look like and how it might function as what they call a “Switzerland of bits.”

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user orvaratli

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