WikiLeaks’ Recent Data Dumps Have Included Private And Potentially Dangerous Information About Ordinary People
WikiLeaks is known for finding and leaking huge amounts of documents and emails from government agencies, political parties, and well-known people, but an investigation by the Associated Press revealed WikiLeaks’ data dumps have included confidential files on average people, including rape victims and mental health patients. In the past year alone, 124 medical files have been published on the site. They’ve remained mostly hidden in the massive pile of files put online all at once, but they’re there nonetheless, exposing ordinary people who haven’t done anything wrong or asked to be in the spotlight.
One Saudi man had documents from a paternity dispute with a former partner blasted to the whole world. “They published everything: my phone, address, name, details,” he told the AP. “If the family of my wife saw this … Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people.”
In worse cases, WikiLeaks’ uploads also named two teenage rape victims and a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, which is not only illegal in Saudi Arabia, but punishable by death.
WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange (who’s currently hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid rape allegations against him in Sweden) has said before that the company doesn’t want to publicize average citizens’ private documents and claimed WikiLeaks had a system to make sure that didn’t happen.
“We have a harm minimization policy,” Assange said in a 2010 speech, according to the AP. “There are legitimate secrets. Your records with your doctor, that’s a legitimate secret.” Since then, though, the system has come to a halt.
WikiLeaks responded to the AP’s story about the oversights by calling it “ridiculous” and a “re-run from 2015.” It also tried to quiet fears that its leak had outed a gay man to the Saudi Arabian government by reminding the public that the data comes from the government. Nevertheless, he was outed to the entire country (and world), which put him in real danger of being attacked by homophobic vigilantes.
Medical records are obviously private, but not much can be done with them besides humiliate someone. However, people’s addresses, phone numbers, and identifying information have also been published, which could easily fall into the wrongs hands and be used for identity theft or violent attacks. AP analysts claim the massive Democratic National Convention data dump last month contained dozens of social security numbers and credit cards and two people were reportedly targeted for identity theft after the leak went up.
If WikiLeaks’ mission is to expose “restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption,” ordinary people’s personal information shouldn’t be included under any circumstances, but especially when it could cause them further harm.