Last week, the DNC saw thousands of emails leaked. It led to angry Bernie supporters protesting at the convention and accusations that Russia was attempting to influence the U.S. elections using WikiLeaks as a catspaw. Now another leaker, Edward Snowden, has taken on WikiLeaks on Twitter, and it opens the door to looking at the ethics of leaking.
When To Leak And What To Leak?
Snowden, famous for working with journalists to unveil the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, took to Twitter to, however gently, criticize WikiLeaks. In response, Wikileaks did not take it well:
Snowden’s criticism likely stung because, after the sound and fury surrounding the emails, the results were less than impressive. Aside from a spitballing email about whether Bernie should be asked about his faith, which was quickly shot down elsewhere in the email chain, most of it is, at best, personally embarrassing instead of politically scandalous. What little scandal there was fell on the head of the already embattled Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the unpopular chair of the Democratic Party. Otherwise, we’ve learned that Ariana Grande lost out on a White House gig for licking donuts and that DNC officials make up silly Craigslist ads about their opponents.
This isn’t exactly compelling information the public needs to know, and it doesn’t appear that the DNC voicemail leaks, which WikiLeaks put up on Wednesday, have anything of much interest, either. Included among the voicemails were a former ambassador checking his dinner invitation, an angry Hillary supporter who thought the party was doing too much for Sanders, and in the first posted voicemail, you can hear a child speaking on the phone.
And WikiLeaks’ refusal to curate anything may have some larger consequences for innocent people. The biggest problem in the DNC email leak was uncensored donor information, including credit cards, passport numbers, and Social Security numbers. Earlier in July, the site leaked what amounts to the personal data of almost every female voter in Turkey for reasons which remain unclear. And all of it adds up to a larger issue: Why did they leak this in the first place?
WikiLeaks Hates Clinton
Whether or not the DNC email leak was an attempt by Russia to influence the election remains under debate. WikiLeaks, however, has made no secret their goal is to damage Clinton. Assange has explicitly stated the email leaks were timed to embarrass Clinton, against whom he has policy objections as well as a personal grudge, as he believes she was pushing for him to be indicted on criminal charges over the Chelsea Manning diplomatic cable leak.
Keep in mind, WikiLeaks does not know the source of any leak it receives, as the submissions process to the site is completely anonymous. So WikiLeaks doesn’t know who got these emails, when they were obtained, and whether or not they were altered. That last is especially important, as there are clear signs of both Russian involvement in the leaks and editing of the documents that WikiLeaks would have found if it had been curating its documents.
Probably the most worrying problem, though, has been WikiLeaks’ general behavior online over the last few days, especially Twitter. The site came out in support of a notorious Twitter harasser permanently banned from the service and posted, before quickly deleting, a tweet widely seen as anti-Semitic. All of which leads to the most important problem in leaking, first asked by the Romans: Who watches the watchmen?
No Leak Is Apolitical
Just like citizens should question their governments and politicians, they should also carefully question the motives of leakers and how transparent the leak itself is. The DNC email leak has backfired on WikiLeaks, and arguably Russia and Trump, because theorizing about who leaked these emails has been far more intriguing to journalists and the general public than the emails themselves. Transparency is becoming more and more important as information technology spreads, and the ability to pry secrets from even the most opaque of places, and to be fair, WikiLeaks has been transparent about its motives, at least. The question becomes, though, whether we like what we’re seeing.