While legislators in Washington work to outlaw peer-to-peer networks, one
website is turning the peer--to-peer technology back on Washington to expose its
inner, secretive workings.
But outraged moderates.org
(http://www.outragedmoderates.org ) isn't offering copyright music and videos
for download. The site, launched two weeks ago, has aggregated more than 600
government and court documents to make them available for download through the
Kazaa (http://www.kazaa.com/us/index.htm), LimeWire
(http://www.limewire.com/english/content/home.shtml) and Soulseek
(http://www.slsknet.org) P2P networks in the interest of making government more
transparent and accountable.
The documents include such items as
recent torture memos related to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, a Senate
Intelligence Committee report on what the government knew before it invaded Iraq
and a document showing how the Bush administration suppressed information about
the full cost of its Medicare plan until after Congress passed the plan. There
is also a copy of a no-bid contract obtained by a Halliburton subsidiary for
work in Iraq and congressional testimony from former employees of the subsidiary
showing how their company engaged in wasteful and costly conduct in Iraq (such
as abandoning an $85,000 Mercedes truck after its tires went flat).
Thad Anderson, a second-year student at St. John's School of Law in Queens, New
York, said he was driven to launch the site by what he says is the current
administration's disregard for fundamental democratic structures and its
increasing practice of withholding information from the public. He wanted to
give people access to crucial data about what elected officials were
"I really think this is a crucial point, during my lifetime,
for people to really look at what's going on with the government and make it be
more accountable for what it's doing," he said. "The president and vice
president have used executive privilege to withhold documents that almost every
president for the last 30 or 40 years has released."
intend to make a statement by using P2P networks, but his use of the networks to
deliver the data counters the usual government and entertainment industry
arguments that P2P networks have no value, apart from stealing copyright works,
and therefore should be outlawed.
In this case, the P2P networks are
promoting public knowledge and doing so in a way that makes it easy for people
to obtain all related documents swiftly with a single mouseclick.
Although all of the documents on Anderson's site are available elsewhere, they
are buried deep in government and court sites or scattered among the sites of
various government watchdog groups and media outlets. It took Anderson about
four hours and 2,000 mouseclicks to download more than 13,000 documents related
to Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force from the National Resources
Defense Council's website (http://www.nrdc.org) and from Judicial Watch
(http://www.judicialwatch.org). But a visitor to Anderson's site can download a
folder containing all of these documents in a few minutes with a couple of
The documents, obtained from Freedom of Information Act
lawsuits, suggest that the task force, convened in 2001, met secretly and may
have colluded with energy companies and lobbyists to craft the nation's energy
policy. The documents include a map of Iraqi oil fields, pipelines and
refineries, and a document called "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts"
dated March 2001, before the attacks on the World Trade Center. They also
include a now-infamous e-mail, known as the “If You Were King
memo, written by an Energy Department employee to a lobbyist asking what, if the
lobbyist were king, he would like to see included in the nation's energy
Some of the documents are informative for what they don't say.
A 1.5-page e-mail between two Department of Energy employees features only the
greeting to "Margot" and a final sentence reading, "Let me know if you have any
further questions." The rest of the e-mail was blanked out by the department
before it was forced to release the document in the lawsuit.
would be a crucial document the public would want to know about. But the entire
document and other documents were redacted so heavily there was really no point
in the Energy Department releasing it," Anderson said.
that seeing the documents themselves, rather than reading about them through the
filter of a news article, has a greater impact.
"It's a very direct
and primary source when you read (these documents) without any spin," he said.
"Unlike a Michael Moore film, there is no dramatic music being played. You're
sitting there looking at it on your computer, and it's a great way for people to
make up their own minds about things.”
Steven V. Aftergood, director
of the Project on Government Secrecy (http://www.fas.org/sgp/index.html) at the
Federation of American Scientists, says the site answers a growing demand from
the public to examine original source documents. He calls it the Smoking Gun
(http://www.thesmokinggun.com) effect, referring to the popular website that
provides original documents on celebrity misconduct.
"People have a
taste for unmediated source documents," Aftergood said. "There is something
attractive about being able to see original documents and not just be told by a
newscaster or reporter what the documents say. What Smoking Gun is doing for
celebrity misconduct, these guys are doing for public policy. I would say that
the more Americans who develop a taste for government documents, the richer our
democracy will be."
Aftergood says that although it's possible to get
many documents, like congressional debates, through the Government Printing
Office (http://www.gpoaccess.gov), sites like outraged moderates.org and The
Memory Hole (http://www.thememoryhole.org) help single out the most important
documents from thousands of pages of material and put them in context so that
readers can know, for example, if one document they are reading contradicts
another document that came out a year earlier.
"What these sites do is
to provide some editorial selection, to say that out of this undifferentiated
universe of government information, here are some interesting things. That's a
useful function," Aftergood said.
Aftergood finds the use of P2P to
deliver the documents a good move and calls it part of the evolutionary cycle of
online technology, in which tools and services that are controversial -- such as
pornography -- lead the way in getting people to adapt to new technologies.
Pornography, for example, had a role in pushing broadband into more
"These questionable uses help win acceptance for new
technology, and then others follow in their footsteps. If (outraged moderates)
provides an after-the-fact (legitimization) for P2P, that's great," Aftergood
Although Anderson is a Democrat, his site supports no particular
political stance. It doesn't need to, he says, because the principles behind it
find support among people of all political beliefs.
"There's a lot of
people of both parties and independent parties who are saying that the things
Bush has done on a number of issues is going beyond what mainstream Americans
are willing to go along with," Anderson said.
Anderson said his goal
is to help people obtain the information they need to speak up about what the
government is doing wrong. He's encouraged that more and more people are doing
"Compared to a year ago when any criticism of the government was
viewed with skepticism and accusations that you were being unpatriotic or
unsupportive, I think it's great that people are starting to step out and say
this is what our country is about. Being able to criticize our government is
what makes us different from a dictatorship in the Middle