Greenpeace is on a mission to expose major corporations and government agencies involved in shady activities—by posting thousands of Freedom of Information Act documents on highly publicized websites. If Greenpeace's tactics work, the organization could change the way companies do business, or at least force them to better hide incriminating documents. Think of it as a government-enabled WikiLeaks for polluting companies. The first target: BP and all the companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
This week, Greenpeace posted approximately 30,000 pages of previously unseen documents related to the oil disaster on its new PolluterWatch Research site. Greenpeace has only combed through a fraction of the documents, and already it has discovered some nasty facts—government officials, for example, knowingly played down the effect of the disaster on marine life, and BP was the only organization in charge of granting permits to scientists wanting to access areas affected by the spill. The responsibility of discovering the other pieces of upsetting information hiding in the documents is up to enterprising members of the public.
"BP and the federal government tried to hide the true impacts of the biggest oil disaster in American history. We're hoping that this database can help expose how they did it and allow local people and armchair environmentalists to dig into the detail," explained Kurt Davies, Research Director at Greenpeace USA, in a statement. In other words, Greenpeace wants to crowdsource the dirty work of exposing corporate misdeeds to the public. Ideally, the hundreds (or thousands) of people picking apart the documents will find useful information and publicize it. Go get to work!
It's a tactic that just might succeed—if people are willing to spend time poring through, say, the minutes of internal BP meetings and flagging them as important so that Greenpeace researchers can do their thing. Greenpeace says that the Deepwater Horizon documents are just the beginning; the organization plans on opening up other controversial companies and agencies to scrutiny in the future. If they do, it might be time for oil-spilling, rainforest-mowing, and water-polluting companies to at least think about cleaning up their acts. The thinking stage is probably as far as the BP's of the world are likely to get, at least until Greenpeace finds something that puts someone in jail.
[Photo by Jan Krömer]