“Information wants to be free” and “information wants to be shared” are common enough refrains from web activists, but the controversial transparency group WikiLeaks has overstepped its bounds.
Last year, the organisation leaked the “Saudi Cables”, a set of emails which show evidence of corruption in the Saudi Arabian government. This year, WikiLeaks also released emails from the Turkish AKP and the Democratic National Committee.
In all instances, WikiLeaks failed to redact highly sensitive information, including private medical files and credit card details. The Associated Press reports that the identities of teenage rape survivors, ill children and refugees have been seriously compromised, in addition to LGBT people currently living in countries where homosexuality is a capital offence.
The mission of WikiLeaks has always been to expose shady government practices through the publication of classified information. However now, the group’s “global crusade” is “causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people,” says the AP.
The information leaked includes names, addresses and phone numbers; everything needed to doxx somebody and ruin their life. While there may be some who argue that the ends justify the means, there is also a case to be made for a duty of care towards the people whose information you hold in your hands.
WikiLeaks ostensibly has a “harm minimisation policy” in place for exactly this purpose, which advises that editors “may remove or significantly delay the publication of some identifying details from original documents to protect life and limb of innocent people.” And in 2010, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defended people’s rights to “legitimate secrets,” stating: “Your records with your doctor, that’s a legitimate secret.”
So what happened?
It is currently a crime in the UK to publish the identity of a rape victim, under the 1992 Sexual Offences Act. In Saudi Arabia, where several of the individuals named in the emails currently live, being outed as gay can lead to a death sentence. Where does WikiLeaks draw the line on its so-called legitimate secrets?
Either Assange and his team lacked the time and resources to properly audit the data, or they published the emails believing that it was more important to hold governments to account than it was to protect innocent citizens. Doubtlessly, neither scenario will offer much comfort to those whose information is now public property.