Throughout his career as a technology activist, Daniel has constantly committed himself to the principles of balancing the freedom of information and confidentiality. This is why when the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange began to select certain publications to be shown instead of simply going with whatever was submitted, Daniel immediately voiced out his opposition and eventually left the company.
As a whistle blower, Daniel understands the difficult life that many people like him face. In an interview, when he was asked regarding what a whistle blower was, he described:
“Usually these people have a very long history of how they got to the point where they took this one decision to betray some kind of a secret. And that process is actually causing a change in the personality as well, because you are constantly in this conflict that is building up over time, where you feel you are part of something that you cannot morally support, where you wonder if you should tell someone else about it, and where over weeks or months or maybe years, you are building up this conflict where you're basically, I think—at least that's my impression—where you're torn between your own values and the values imposed on you by something you have become part of.”
The Rise of a Technology Activist
Daniel Domscheit-Berg was born in 1978 in Germany. At an early age, he already exhibited an extraordinary aptitude for technology, something that he developed overtime at an amazing rate. During the late eighties to early nineties, as computers were increasingly becoming popular and the Internet was beginning to be in demand, Daniel became more interested in computer programming and focused his studies on this rapidly growing area.
In 2002, Daniel enrolled at the University of Cooperative Education at Mannheim and took up the course of applied computer science. During his time at the university, Daniel exhibited such an intellect that truly amazed both his professors and fellow students. Daniel also had a brilliant imagination, always thinking outside the box and loved to do experiments. His love and passion were further developed, so much so that later in his life, Daniel became one of the most significant people in the area of information and computers. Daniel completed his studies in 2005 with high marks and earned his bachelor’s degree.
First Work: Electronic Data Systems
After leaving the University of Cooperative Education, Daniel entered Electronic Data Systems (the same company where he did his on the job training to complete his college course) where he worked as a network engineer. Focused on the area of information security and wireless technology, Daniel became a significant part of the company as he developed several systems that enabled Electronic Data Systems to lead in the network business.
Joining WikiLeaks: Daniel’s International Popularity
In 2009, Daniel left Electronic Data Systems to work with Julian Assange in WikiLeaks, a whistle blower organization website that publishes secret information, news leaks and classified media documents that are submitted by anonymous sources in the effort of keeping the public informed of things that they believe are being hidden from them.
When Daniel was interviewed as to why he joined WikiLeaks, he shared the philosophical basis of what got him interested:
“The idea basically was to use the Internet to provide a very simple service, and that is to enable whistleblowers or sources of information to anonymously convey the information they have to a website that is dedicated to making this information public. So basically it's a really simple idea: making use of the very powerful technology, such as an Internet, in order to create some kind of a wholesale, at least in a very large scale, possibility for the leakage of information.”
While a lot of Daniel’s friends supported his decision to work with an organization such as WikiLeaks, others remained skeptical of the organization’s function, believing that there were some things that should be kept in the dark. At that time, Daniel was a member of the “Chaos Computer Club,” a society of hackers, and most of his friends there somehow criticized the legitimacy of WikiLeaks’ actions.
Daniel spoke about this in an interview:
“Well, my friends thought it was a good thing. On the other hand, they were quite skeptical, because no one knew if it would turn out. And especially here in the neighborhood of the Chaos Computer Club, in Germany, which is a hacker club that has a very strong focus on protecting privacy, and on let's say countering state technology provided by the state, it was big skepticism in the beginning, because it was actually felt that WikiLeaks could betray the privacy of people or invade the privacy of people in a way that it would not be appropriate.”
When Daniel first started working with Julian, he was very intrigued about the kind of work that they could do together as an organization. WikiLeaks was still young at that point, and both Daniel and Julian spent a lot of time working on how the organization would operate and how it would help society. Daniel stated in an interview:
“We talked a lot about journalism. What's the state of investigative journalism? How can you help that state by tweaking on a couple of screws, like loosening or tightening these screws? And one of these screws could be the provisioning of good information, of primary-source materials. How do you establish independent checks of the press? So how can we make sure that people understand better that the work the press does has good quality? So how do we make that work more transparent? How do we make it more scientific? All of these issues. So there really was a lot of talk about so many topics.”
It was not long after he joined that Daniel became one of the leading figures of WikiLeaks. Serving as its spokesperson, Daniel was instantly thrust at the forefront of a world filled with confidential information, and remained passionate in defending what WikiLeaks stood for. In his three years of working on WikiLeaks, Daniel was significant in his role as its voice as he was able to gain public support for the organization’s operations.
After Issues: Daniel Leaving WikiLeaks
When Daniel worked with WikiLeaks, he became interested in the idea of being able to let people know about certain things that were being kept secret from them. However, in the years that followed since he joined, Daniel came to dislike the growing inconsistencies of Julian’s ideals and his totalitarian control over the organization, which allowed him to publish only what he liked to publish. According to Daniel, Julian began to express his idea of a world where there were no secrets, something which Daniel opposed to because of his belief that it was important to keep people informed, there are just some things that should be kept in the dark to avoid causing trouble.
Daniel described this in an interview made with him:
“A bit later on, I read a few of these blog entries he made. He wrote this one piece, I think in 2006, about conspiracies that I read maybe in 2009 or so, so I found out new stuff then. He elaborated on how much conspiracies were at the root of the evil in society, and how much if you ridded the world of conspiracies, of all secrets, basically, yeah, how you could, first of all, get rid of these conspiracies, and by that also make sure that they cannot exist anymore, and they cannot be established anymore. And this is sort of, I think, his vision of what is the ultimate state, where there are just no secrets. And I thought this was not a view that I shared entirely.”
Eventually, Daniel started to voice out his opinions regarding Julian’s stance on the function of WikiLeaks, something that caused a strain in their partnership. In 2010, reports surfaced that Daniel was suspended by Julian after a dispute that occurred between them with regards to Julian’s focus on one issue rather than simply publishing the things that were regularly submitted by its supporters. Daniel said:
“I objected that we should focus on that so much, because I thought we should build out WikiLeaks in a way that we could just keep up with whatever was submitted, and not just focusing on one. And when I found out the whole plan about the publication for the Afghanistan material, I objected to the way it was going to be published, and that is in respect to redactions and to editorial care...”
It did not take long for Daniel and Julian’s partnership to suffer a breakdown point, and in 2011, Daniel announced his resignation from WikiLeaks and stated that upon leaving the organization, he would ensure the deletion of several hundred data that he believed should not be published.
In that same year, Daniel established OpenLeaks, his own whistle blower website as a means of continuing his work in keeping the people informed about certain issues. During a Chaos Computer Club event in August, Daniel invited numerous hackers to test the security of OpenLeaks, which earned him the disdain of several high ranking members of the club who believed that Daniel was simply using CCC as a means of promoting his project and was expelled from the club. This expulsion did not last, and in early 2012 Daniel was once again accepted by CCC.
Although it was initially announced that OpenLeaks would begin their operations in early 2011, Daniel later said in an interview that instead of running the leaks themselves, they would focus on spreading the information on various leak websites, which was the goal of the organization in the first place.
That same year, Daniel wrote and published his book titled “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website,” where he recalled the beginnings of his work with WikiLeaks, the changes that caused him to leave the company, and the events that led to his eventual departure. The book, which was originally released in the German language, had an English translation made a few days following its release and was well-received by the public.
In the midst of all of the trials and troubles that come in Daniel’s life, he finds refuge and comfort in the love and care that his family has shown him all these years. It is also because of his family that Daniel grew up with the desire to help other people through the use of information. Daniel is married to Anke Domscheit-Berg, who worked as the director of government relations of the German division of Microsoft. A fellow promoter of open government action, Anke has supported her husband and has also been significant in the drafting of a new law in Iceland regarding online investigative journalism.
Currently, Daniel spends most of his time in further developing OpenLeaks in order to be able to serve people better with the publication of important information that people need to know. And while he is aware that his journey will still have numerous obstacles along the way, Daniel understands that the lives changed by the information that he spreads is worth all the trouble that he will face.
“I think what we need, of society, people, finding mutual agreements of how we want to live together, of the standards we want to live up to, and that what we do is developing such a standard. And that I think is really important.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Wikileaks.com (previously)
- Chaos Computer Club
Awards and Achievements
- 2011: Included in the Top Global Thinkers list by Foreign Policy Magazine
Wikipedia (English: Daniel Domscheit-Berg)
Wikipedia (German: Daniel Domscheit-Berg)
PBS.org (Interview Daniel Domscheit-Berg)
The New York Times (QUESTIONS FOR DANIEL DOMSCHEIT-BERG: Exit Interview)