Mexico, it seems, has been beset by a ceaseless string of political scandals that date back to…well, sometime around 500 BC, when the Aztec God Quetzalcohuātl got drunk and “allegedly” slept with his sister.
The ignominy of Mexico’s political class, it turns out, was just getting started. Today, some 2,500 years later, a new online tool is being rolled out to give Mexican whistleblowers a chance to denounce the corruption they see around them every day.
On Tuesday, Free Press Unlimited, an organization funded by the Dutch government, the European Union and private enterprise that describes its mission as helping “local journalists in war zones and conflict areas provide their audience with trustworthy news and information,” launched the website Mexicoleaks to encourage Mexicans to anonymously step forward with tips and information about alleged wrongdoing and graft.
“We don’t accept rumors, opinions or first hand accounts. We seek information of public interest that evidences corruption.”
Mexicoleaks is partnering with eight Mexican news outlets and civil society organizations that will be granted digital inboxes to receive information submitted to the site. Whistleblowers can choose which media outlet they want to receive their leaked info.
“The Mexican Constitution recognizes freedom of expression and the right to information. The State must guarantee the exercise of both.”
Mexico’s media giants were not invited to participate in the Mexicoleaks project and critics argue many of the participating news outlets have a leftist editorial bent.
“We are going to follow a journalistic agenda, not a political agenda,” said reporter Homero Campa, whose employer, Proceso magazine, is participating in the project.
“The criteria that will guide us will be if the information is of public interest,” he told Fusion. “After six months there will be an evaluation process and other media outlets could be invited.”
Journalist Luis Guillermo Hernandez said there is a need for greater scrutiny of government officials and businessmen. He thinks Mexicoleaks can help. “If we don’t do it now, Mexico will not be viable as a country in the future,” he said.
Luis Fernando Garcia, a spokesman for the digital rights group R3D, said the site’s aim is to “defend Mexicans from government and corporate threats.” At a press conference in Mexico City, Garcia said the website could find the “Mexican Snowden” and encouraged people from government security and intelligence agencies to “safely” submit classified information that evidences wrongdoing.
Unlike Wikileaks, not all of the submitted information will be published. Reporters will work to verify information provided in the leaks and contact any mentioned parties for comment.
“When submitting information that serves to evidence abuse and corruption, you are helping to build a more transparent and just country.”
Representatives say the website is safeguarded to protect users who provide documents.
“The system is very hard to hack, and you can’t bombard the information through the use of bots,” said journalist and activist Eduard Martin-Borregon.
The system asks users to download Tor, an Internet search engine that hides IP addresses. Submitted documents generate an electronic receipt with a number allowing whistleblowers to establish written communication with the recipient journalists.
Cyber security expert Rodrigo Samano said the system isn’t entirely foolproof, however.
“You have to take into account whistleblowers will most likely not have an advanced IT background,” he told Fusion. “Tor-encrypted browsing might make it hard for the receiver to find out the identity of the sender, but not impossible.”
Samano explained whistleblowers should perform several additional steps not yet pointed out by the site. He said anyone who submits information should do it from a public network, connect with a disposable computer and perform a wiping procedure after the deed.
“This is a noble cause but it’s not well implemented. Most of the time, if you add a little forensic information technology and the carelessness of people or lack of knowledge it makes pinpointing the source fairly easy,” Samano said.
Mexicoleaks representatives said a similar project in Spain has proven successful. In Mexico it remains to be seen if this digital platform is able to promote a new type of citizen journalism and whistleblowing culture.
The website has been up only a few hours and there’s already hiccups. Media outlet MVS Noticias published a written statement Tuesday night saying it does not form part of the Mexicoleaks platform in spite of being named as one of the participatory brands. “The use of our brand, without expressed authorization from its proprietaries, constitutes not only a grievance and offense, but a deception to society, since it implicates an unfortunate abuse of trust,” reads the statement.
Nonetheless, if the website is able to properly function and win the trust of Mexicans, the timing of its arrival couldn’t be worst for the nation’s embattled political class which has been taking one hit after another, pummeled by a steady drumbeat of corruption and alleged conflict of interest scandals.