Wikileaks and privacy

There's been lots of discussion of the recent publication on Wikileaks of conversations between diplomats. Some people seem to think that it's fine to openly publish classified information that somehow manages to leak out.

It seems to me that there's a bigger privacy issue here that's being overlooked.

Would people feel differently if a large batch of Social Security numbers or credit card numbers were openly published on the Internet? What about proprietary information that's covered by an NDA? What about openly divulging all of the details of negotiating an enterprise software sale?

In each of these cases we'd have a misuse of sensitive information, but many people (perhaps all of them) who I've talked to that support the right of Wikileaks to freely publish classified information don't agree that it would be OK to freely publish other sensitive information, and I don't see a way to make that point of view consistent with the need to protect other types of sensitive information.

There may be a need to be able to expose the actions of governments, but it seems hard to justify openly publishing classified information in a way that doesn't start us on the first step towards also accepting the misuse of other sensitive information. Privacy is important, even for people who work for government agencies and it's probably better to respect it than to openly violate it.

  • bank cd rates

    I remember the last time there was a “Wikileaks,” and it very much like this time.
    Now, as then, I encountered very strong but differing opinions/perceptions about it. Some/many people explicitly support “Wikileaks” and regard it/Julian Assange as good, and others explicitly condemn it/him -but I’ve yet to see anyone clearly identify much less defend their reasoning. This seems strange to me, and almost makes me suspicious. What exactly is the issue here? For disclosure, I’m undecided on the issue -because I simply do not know enough to know if Wikileaks is good or bad. I’m aware that JA is accused of a sexual crime in Europe. I will say that as someone who values truth and honesty, I have at least a little suspicion and/or skepticism of advocacy of GOVERNMENT secrecy (although I understand it it necessary at least sometime). What exactly is going on with WikiLeaks and why exactly is it wrong or right? And HOW is this information being obtained? It confuses me that I hear people harshly condemning it and saying “this person should be tried for treason and executed, etc.”IF a serious law has been broken, I’d expect it to be cited and used as the basis for advocating the pursuit of formal charges.Was the information leaked acquired by consent (shared/sold by those who controlled it) or stolen? I haven’t seen this clearly established anywhere, which seems weird as it is clearly a significant consideration. If anyone can clarify this, I’d be grateful, thanks. I’m also VERY curious why I’ve yet to hear it clearly identified.


  • Ryan

    There are several real and obvious differences between publishing a batch of social security numbers (or credit card numbers) and publishing conversations between diplomats.
    First off, my social insurance number (the Canadian equivalent of a SSN) and credit card numbers are nobody else’s business but my own. If somebody else learns these numbers, then there is potential for them to be misused. On the other hand, a diplomat exists *for no other reason* than to represent the people. What they do as an official part of their job is quite literally the business of every citizen, and they have no more right to deny us access to it then we do to publish their SSN and credit card numbers. If a diplomat feels that a transparent and accountable government is somehow incompatible with their own personal privacy, then nobody is stopping them from choosing not to be part of government. Governments (and corporations) are not people, and have no inherent right to privacy. The diplomats themselves do–of course–have such a right, but what they do in an official capacity should not intersect with their personal privacy in any way that would make such documents intrusive to their personal privacy. Consider the analogous situation involving SSNs and credit card numbers: if the rightful owners of this information were required to *opt-in* before their information would appear on the list, then I see this as much less of a problem for personal privacy.
    As for proprietary information that is covered by an NDA, this slightly more of a grey-area, IMHO. On the one hand, the ability to protect proprietary information stimulates competition. On the other hand, the fact that many ideas are proprietary does equally much to hinder advancement in many important areas. Here is my stance on this one: if you sign an NDA, you are legally responsible to honour it; if you *do not* honour it, then there *should* be legal repercussions. If, on the other hand, you have signed no such NDA, and you find yourself in possession of such information, then you should not feel compelled to reveal, nor hide, that information. It is your business and it is your choice what you do at this point. The only moral obligations that you should feel here are: 1) to protect the personal privacy of any individuals that might be compromised if the documents in the event that the documents are released (which can be done through proper redaction in many instances), and 2) to ensure that the rights of individuals will not be compromised in the event that the documents are not released. If the documents contain sensitive personal information about the diplomats, then they certainly should not be published on Wikileaks without appropriate redaction. At the same time, if the documents contain information that our *own governments want to keep secret from us*, then a government that is formed by the people, for the people, should replace these governments.
    You claim that it is hard to justify publishing personal information in a way that “doesn’t start us on the first step towards also accepting the misuse of other sensitive information.” I feel that it is at least as hard to justify censoring citizens’ access to certain information *the own government that is supposed to represent their own interests* that doesn’t start us on the first step towards accepting the censoring of other information that those in power don’t want us to see.


  • Steve

    Ryan has this exactly right.


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