If you value privacy, WikiLeaks stopped being your friend years ago
The Democratic Party can’t be happy with WikiLeaks after that site published 19,252 emails taken from the Democratic National Committee’s servers. But party donors should be even angrier.
WikiLeaks, perhaps best known for its 2010 disclosure of video showing US soldiers fatally shooting Iraqi civilians, on Friday posted a trove of messages to and from the DNC that included home addresses, Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information found in routine donation records.
And its Twitter account has been getting into the creepy zone lately. Should you take this group as the independent guardian it portrays itself to be? I’m going to say no.
Doxing DNC donors
As Gizmodo and other news sites observed, if you search for “Contribution” inWikiLeaks’s DNC archive, you’ll see where these contributors live, the last four digits of some of their credit cards, and sometimes even their Social Security and passport numbers.
“There’s no clear public-interest value in publishing them,” said Alex Howard, a senior analyst with the Washington-based transparency group Sunlight Foundation. Instead, Howard says the act was “ethically dubious if not outright reprehensible.”
The DNC should have known to encrypt information that sensitive, and an organization as security-conscious as WikiLeaks should have known not to publish it. Yet its Twitter account said this large-scale unmasking of private citizens “isn’t an error.”
An e-mail sent to WikiLeaks’ media-contact address Tuesday went unanswered.
Wikileaks’ DNC archive did reveal some concerning episodes. In one e-mail, a Politico reporter let a DNC staffer inspect an unpublished story. Others showed the DNC working behind the scenes to support Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nomination.
(The Republican National Committee had its own ambitions to find and back an establishment candidate, but the RNC seems to have escaped WikiLeaks’ attention).
But exposing wrongdoing doesn’t demand a data breach, and “doxing” isn’t reporting.International Consortium of Investigative Journalists director Gerard Ryle recently summed up this sentiment to Wired after his organization published its carefully screened“Panama Papers” money-laundering report. “We’re not WikiLeaks,” Ryle told Wired.
WikiLeaks has done this before. It exposed Afghan intelligence sources in 2010 — founder Julian Assange said he was only obliged to protect those facing “unjust retribution” — and then revealed human-rights activists in a 2011 dump of State Department communications.
Separate research by security firms Fidelis, Mandiant and ThreatConnect strongly suggests WikiLeaks got these e-mails from Russian intelligence agencies who earlier hacked into the DNC. That makes today’s site look even less like the one that helped document a secretly negotiated, multinational deal called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in the late 2000s.
“The timing of the DNC leaks raises questions,” wrote James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International. “If WikiLeaks is able to get Donald Trump elected, well, I think that will have consequences for everyone, and I don’t see how Assange sees this as a positive.”
Knowledge Ecology International relied on WikiLeaks documents for its criticism of ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and Love said earlier dealings with Assange’s group had been pleasant: “In the TPP leaks, they did a lot of work to protect the sources.”
Assange, Howard said, has a history of seeing Western democracies as a bigger threat than the likes of Russia or China. He asked Assange about that during the WikiLeaks founder’s video appearance at a conference in Mexico City, and, Howard recalled, “He got fairly upset about it.”
(Assange had to attend remotely because he’s been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London since 2012 to avoid arrest on rape charges.)