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The Panama Papers shook the financial world in 2016

The term Leak ( English for leak , hole , leaking point ), also called leaking , describes the unauthorized publication of information in German-speaking countries . There is no direct translation that completely covers the meaning of the English term; instead, paraphrases such as intentional indiscretion or neologisms such as piercing are used. Closely related is the concept of betrayal of secrets , which, however , cannot be equated due to the judgmental reference to the criminal offense of treason .

Definition and conceptual history

In American research in particular, a definition has been established that emphasizes six factors. A leak is the targeted disclosure of confidential information from an insider (often called a whistleblower ) to a journalist, the publication of which violates laws, ordinances and conventions, without using the prescribed, proper channels. This is done with the prospect of anonymity for the source. However, this definition has been criticized in recent research because it ignores numerous central aspects. It is not discussed whether the leaker had legitimate access to the information, what status or status the published information had, how the secrets thus revealed were received and what consequences the disclosure had. It follows that the term leak must be contextualized historically, as its meaning depends on how it is used. For American history, it can be said that the leak initially had a positive connotation with which the public was informed about important political events. An example of this is the debate about the publication of the minutes of the Yalta Conference in the New York Times of March 16, 1955. This disclosure, which took place with the approval of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles , was viewed in the American press as a necessary journalistic service for the American Celebrated society. Conversely, other publications, such as the recent revelations by the Wikileaks platform , have been attacked as dangerous and irresponsible.

The term has been common in the USA since the late 1940s, before it was used sporadically as a metaphor in need of explanation in public discourse. It was also used at this time as a loan word in the German press to describe the publication of classified or classified material. In 1950 the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung told its readers that a leak was a “leak to the press”. American reporting during the Cuban Missile Crisis , which was marked by countless deliberate indiscretions, received special attention in Germany . This news management represents an "influencing of public opinion through one-sided, distorted and also false official reports in the interests of the government and ruling party". US President Kennedy and his team of intellectuals are driving "with increasing recklessness - and with irritating success ," such as Der Spiegel complained. Kennedy and his advisory staff had actually shown selected journalists top secret aerial and satellite images and informed them about the CIA's educational work . At the height of the crisis, Kennedy was personally in close contact with the editorial offices of the New York Times and Washington Post and influenced the reporting through targeted information transfer.

In contrast to these controlled and authorized publications, incidents must be described in which the disclosure of information was prosecuted. Such subversive or corrosive leaks represent a tiny minority. In the USA between 1981 and 2011, only 0.3% of all leak incidents were prosecuted by the judiciary, as David Pozen has shown. However, such exceptions generate much greater media attention, so that leakers like Daniel Ellsberg , Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden are actually exceptions.

A more specific use of the term refers to the publication of pre-release versions (usually alpha or beta versions ) of computer games or other software , which are often published on the Internet without the consent of the developer . Leaks can be unstable and faulty due to the incompletion . In music , too, publications are often available on the Internet before they officially appear in stores.


Known is the unveiling platform WikiLeaks , the leaked documents published , such as excerpts from the secret toll contracts with Toll Collect , parts of the trial protocols to ACTA , tens of thousands of secret documents from the war in Afghanistan since 2001 ( Afghan War Diary ) and other material from politics and business. Less known, but older than WikiLeaks, is the Cryptome website . The offshore leaks and the Luxembourg leaks are further examples.


Third party data theft

Leaked computer games are mostly based on spying on data and are illegally accessible even before the actual release .

A well-known example of a leak is the computer game Half-Life 2 from Valve Software . The hacker "ANON" (derived from anonymous ) gained unauthorized access to the developer's company network in 2003 and copied the source code of Build -4, which he also published. Other known leaks are e.g. B. the alpha version 0.02 of Doom 3 , which id Software showed at E3 2002 - whereby the CD on which the presented version was stored was stolen - or various stalker builds (1098, 1114, 1154, 2215). There were particularly many leaks with Windows Vista and Longhorn . Almost all builds were published as "private leak". In 2003 and 2004, a leaked alpha version of World of Warcraft also appeared on the Internet. At the beginning of 2011 a leaked beta version of the game Crysis 2 was put on the net.

Make available anonymously by a developer

However, there are also cases where one of the developers himself makes the source code available to the fan base anonymously at the end of the official support period of a computer game in order to enable them to provide their own support, i.e. to prevent the game from becoming abandonware . One reason why the "abbreviation" of "Leaking" is chosen instead of an official release is that the resolution of the rights situation is often too complicated and time-consuming, since the rights are often distributed among many parties. For example , the source code for Dark Reign 2 was published in 2011 by a previous Pandemic Studios developer; another example is the availability of the Falcon 4.0 source code.

As part of the self-organized support by the user community, unofficial patches or portings to other platforms are then created with the help of the source code .


In music, too, publications are often available on the Internet before they officially appear in stores. For this reason, some musicians and record labels have switched to no longer sending advance versions to journalists. Instead, audio samples can be held at events where the recording that is due for publication is played.

Individual evidence

  1. Lexicography, blog: leaken (Anglicism of the year 2010) .
  2. a b Christoph Meister: No News without Secrets. Political leaks in the United States from 1950-1976 . Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-8288-3764-5 , p. 27 .
  3. a b David Pozen: The Leaky Leviathan . In: Harvard Law Review . tape 127 , 2013, p. 521 .
  4. Rahul Sagar: The Creaky Leviathan: Comment on David Pozen's Leaky Leviathan . In: Harvard Law Review Forum . tape 127 , 2013.
  5. Christoph Meister: No News without Secrets. Political leaks in the United States from 1950-1976 . Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-8288-3764-5 , p. 103-117 .
  6. ^ Voices of Others , in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 23, 1950
  7. ^ Dear colleagues , in: Der Spiegel, May 1, 1963
  8. Christoph Meister: No News without Secrets. Political leaks in the United States 1950-1976 . Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2016, p. 143-187 .
  9. David Pozen: The Leaky Leviathan. Why the Government Condemns and Condones Unlawful Disclosures of Information . In: Harvard Law Review . tape 127 , 2013, p. 532-542 .
  10. Simon Parkin: The Boy Who Stole Half-Life 2 - The story behind the $ 250 million robbery. ( English ) www.eurogamer.net. February 21, 2011. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  11. Gabe Newell's announcement of the break-in at Valve ( Memento from December 2, 2003 in the Internet Archive )
  12. kotaku.com on February 11, 2011: Crysis 2 Leaked Online, Creators 'Deeply Disappointed'. Retrieved February 13, 2011 .
  13. timothy: Dark Reign 2 Goes Open Source ( English ) slashdot .org. August 7, 2012. Retrieved August 13, 2013: “ One of Activision's last RTS games, Dark Reign 2, has gone open source under the LGPL. "
  14. darkreign2 . Google code . September 1, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  15. Giorgio Bertolone: Interview with Kevin Klemmick - Lead Software Engineer for Falcon 4.0 ( English ) Cleared-To-Engage. March 12, 2011. Archived from the original on March 18, 2011. Retrieved on August 31, 2014: “ [C2E] In 2000 the source code of Falcon 4.0 leaked out and after that groups of volunteers were able to make fixes and enhancements that assured the longevity of this sim. Do you see the source code leak as a good or bad event? [Klemmick] "Absolutely a good event. In fact I wish I'd known who did it so I could thank them. I honestly think this should be standard procedure for companies that decide not to continue to support a code base." "