WikiLeaks has published highly personal data on many private citizens around the world, including the name of a Saudi Arabian man arrested for being gay, an Associated Press investigation has found.
Publishing the name of the Saudi man is “an extraordinary move given that homosexuality can lead to social ostracism, a prison sentence or even death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom,” the AP reported today.
The site, founded by Julian Assange, was originally set up to expose questionable actions by governments worldwide. It is famed for publishing diplomatic cables and other documents leaked by Chelsea Manning when she was in the U.S. Army, an act for which she has been imprisoned. More recently, it has publicized Democratic Natinal Committee emails. But in the past year, it has made much more sensitive information about ordinary citizens publicly available, according to the AP.
In addition to outing the Saudi man, the site has published the names of teenage rape victims, medical records, financial data, and information relating to paternity disputes, custody fights, and other family concerns, the AP reports.
The news service, which is not publishing names or other identifying details from the WikiLeaks files, contacted 23 people who were affected. Most of them live in Saudi Arabia, where the site is censored, so they did not know their information had appeared there. Some were unfazed when told of the situation, but some were “horrified,” the AP notes.
“This is a disaster,” said a Saudi woman who had taken on debt to support a relative who was ill, without telling other members of her family. “What if my brothers, neighbors, people I know or even don’t know have seen it? What is the use of publishing my story?”
International LGBT rights activist Scott Long told the AP that with the publication of personal information on anyone persecuted for being gay, “you’re legitimizing their surveillance, not combating it.”
Assange did not respond to the news service’s multiple requests for an interview, nor did he answer written questions it sent. After the AP published its article, he tweeted that it was “recycled news” and “not even worth a headline.” Assange lives at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was granted asylum after being accused of rape and sexual assault in Sweden.
Assange and other WikiLeaks officials once said they had a process in place to prevent private citizens’ information from being exposed, with journalists and others going over documents to flag and/or redact sensitive data. But that process eventually fell apart, as Assange found it delayed the release of information, and now there is apparently little scrutiny of leaked files before they are posted, the AP reports.
Gay investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald has distanced himself from WikiLeaks lately, and National Security Administration leaker Edward Snowden “recently suggested the site should take more care to curate its work,” the news service notes. Several people the AP interviewed were highly critical of the site’s practices.
“Their understanding of journalism is finding an interesting document in a trash can and then dumping the can on your front door,” said Bulgarian computer researcher Vesselin Bontchev.