Accessing confidential government emails loses its utility when most of the content turns out to be nothing more than spam and links to malware.
Whether Wikileaks was simply being careless or they were driven by the principle of full disclosure, they’ve nonetheless released a collection of emails from Turkey’s ruling AKP political party that includes over 300 variants of malware. Bulgarian security expert Vesselin Bontchev listed instances of malicious links he discovered in in a Github post.
“For the record, I consider this to be extremely irresponsible on the part of Wikileaks,” Bontchev wrote on Github. “Malware distribution is not ‘journalism’ by any definition of the term.”
Wikileaks claimed the emails shed light on corruption within the Turkish government. But New York Times reporter Zeynep Tufekci questioned their value, writing on Twitter that the emails “have little to do with ‘Turkey’s political structure.'”
This claim is false. These emails have little to do with “Turkey’s political structure.” Mostly mailing lists+spam. pic.twitter.com/F7905JUg6z
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) August 15, 2016
And it’s only the most recent in a string of dumps Wikileaks is being criticized for handling too recklessly. In July, they published 300,000 emails dubbed “Erdogan emails” immediately after a failed coup attempt in Turkey to overthrow the AKP. Critics didn’t find anything “newsworthy” in the private messages but they did find private and sensitive information about millions of female citizens which were needlessly exposed.
Where Wikileaks deserves some credit is in their work exposing some of the shady conspiring within the Democratic party during the primary process. Their leak of emails from the Democratic National Convention led to the resignation of former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
But the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes government transparency, stated the public interest could have been served “alongside responsible redaction” of sensitive information like credit card and social security numbers of Democratic donors.
“Responsible media outlets report on a breach by confirming what happened, how it happened, and whom it affects, not by making the personal data of the victims of a hack more liquid nor linking readers to where they can find the raw documents,” they stated in critique titled On Weaponized Transparency.
In the effort to bring critical information to light, Wikileaks needs to remember it carries the burden of responsible disclosure. Without that, they could pose a greater threat to data privacy than than the corrupted government agencies they’re supposed to be fighting against.