Wikileaks has been no stranger to controversy over the last year. The whistleblower organization positioned itself at the center of a tumultuous presidential election cycle be leaking information about prominent Democratic officials, allegedly putting itself in favor of President-elect Donald Trump. Through all the Democratic National Committee leaks and the series of Podesta E-mail leaks, it established itself as a transparency force in the new digital era.
But it also still faced criticism over its practices.
The Democratic National Committee leaks were e-mails among various party officials that exposed a great deal about the party’s inner workings. It had very candid and revealing conversations, but because of its private nature, it also had personal information. This inclusion of personal information even made advocates for transparency concerned, including Edward Snowden.
Now another controversy has erupted after a Twitter account belonging to the “Wikileaks Task Force” suggested it was compiling a database of user data from verified users. Verified users are accounts with blue check marks, a symbol used by Twitter to indicate a prominent or famous individual or entity is legitimate.
For transparency advocates and Wikileaks defenders, this seemed like an uncomfortable position. For opponents of the organization, this was their moment to expose the organization. But was it everything the opposition made it out to sound?
The initial tweet referenced creating a database of “family/job/financial/housing relationships” for verified Twitter users.
Given the previous controversy involving personal information leaked in the DNC leaks, it is understandable that there would be some alarm. Many privacy advocates were concerned that Wikileaks was suggesting a move to dox prominent Twitter users. Doxing is the posting of private information online with malicious intent.
The problem here is a 140 character tweet doesn’t provide a lot of clarity. As such, the Wikileaks Task Force moved to clarify the record. What were they actually proposing? A proximity graph.
The Wikileaks Task Force elaborated in a series of tweets that it the proposal would explore relationships among influencing users. Given that the blue verified check cannot be acquired by just anyone, it would suggest that those who are verified are in a position of influence.
At that point, is the Wikileaks Task Force embarking upon the early stages of a smear campaign or simply exploring social networking a little deeper?
For many celebrities, politicians, and other public figures, many of this information is already available online. A Wikipedia page will have family background and professional history, which often will allude to financial points and housing situation.
Though Wikileaks has made a name for itself exposing hacked material and releasing unauthorized material, the proposed database theoretically wouldn’t even need to acquire private information. Networking data and otherwise publicly available information online could suffice. All the Wikileaks Task Force seems to be proposing is taking this information and making it into a proximity graph.
It’s actually not that Orwellian, contrary to what the media alarmists have suggested.
Even if Wikileaks had suggested creating a thorough database of personal data, which it didn’t, it wouldn’t compare to the massive surveillance operation the United States government has. And even though Edward Snowden sits in exile for showing us that the government intercepts all of this data and monitors our every move, many of these same media pundits have been hostile to Snowden.
Thus, it begs the question: is the mainstream media actually concerned about personal privacy, or are they here to protect big government and the surveillance state while targeting legitimate supporters of transparency?