Data black market: New free platform lets whistleblowers sell secrets for Bitcoins

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Whistleblowers have got a new place to leak sensitive data anonymously and even get money for it. DarkLeaks, the free platform for sharing secrets where sellers and buyers never meet, makes it possible for users to legally avoid the long arm of the law.

"There is no identity, no central operator and no interaction between leaker and buyers," the developers’ statement says.

The DarkLeaks service is free software, which can be downloaded from the Internet together with its source code, and where all operations with files take place.

The service uses the technology developed for secure Bitcoin payments, where users can make transactions directly without needing an intermediary.

READ MORE: New bitcoin app provides financial incentive for future leakers

The files on sale are encrypted, but the platform allows the buyer to verify the files before payment. As a buyer selects a file, its randomly encrypted parts and Bitcoin payment address are shown to them. If the data matches the claims of the leaker, Bitcoins can be transferred to the leaker’s Bitcoin address. For the other part, the seller must release the decryption key, which unlocks the encrypted file for the buyer. The mechanism involved makes the environment free from intervention.

The developers of the service claim to have created it to "[devalue] business models based around proprietary secrecy" providing a financial, rather than moral, incentive for insiders to reveal information, Amir Taaki, the project's systems developer, told the CoinDesk.

The developers did not limit the types of files to be sold with the service, meaning it can be movies, trade secrets, government secrets, evidence of corruption and even celebrity sex pictures. The range of information could potentially raise red flags for authorities, but Taaki said no requests have been received by the team so far.

The Darkleaks service was presented in the beginning of February in its first test version and it is still a work in progress.

Some experts have stressed the necessity of such services nowadays, though they said it is unfortunate that Darkleaks equated whistleblowing with selling information.

"You do need these sorts of groups," Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer and whistleblower told the New Scientist. "We are looking at a period of small, nimble information freedom fighters pushing back against these homogenized corporate and state powers to protect our basic human rights."

Some specialists, however, believe selling information would present legal problems, though they admit that the current situation could make whistleblowers reconsider their options.

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"When you're selling information you're not really a whistleblower under the legislative legal definition in almost any country," Beatrice Edwards, US Government Accountability Project executive director, told the New Scientist. "We have seen in the US an increasingly punitive attitude on the part of the government towards whistleblowers," she said. "This could force them into some underground exchange of information like this because the Obama administration prosecutes national security whistleblowers rather than protecting them."