According to the Associated Press, the hacktivist group Wikileaks has released documents that reveal the identities of gay men in Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuality is punishable by death.
The AP’s investigation found that the group founded by Julian Assange is “causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill.”
Amidst the thousands of documents from the sites latest dump is the personal information of at least one gay Saudi man, as well as the personal info of rape victims and people living with HIV.
“They published everything: my phone, address, name, details,” said a Saudi man who was baffled as to why WikiLeaks revealed the details of a paternity dispute with a former partner. “If the family of my wife saw this … Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people.”
According to the AP, “WikiLeaks’ mass publication of personal data is at odds with the site’s claim to have championed privacy even as it laid bare the workings of international statecraft, and has drawn criticism from the site’s allies.”
I support WL's mission, but redacting the names of gay men in Saudi Arabia seems like the prudent thing to do. https://t.co/Y9kdDTnmwd
— Eva (@evacide) August 23, 2016
The number of people affected easily reaches into the hundreds. Paul Dietrich, a transparency activist, said a partial scan of the Saudi cables alone turned up more than 500 passport, identity, academic or employment files.
Despite a history of exposing the information of private citizens along with its data dumps, Assange insists that WikiLeaks has a system to keep ordinary people safe.
“We have a harm minimization policy,” the Australian once said according to the AP. “There are legitimate secrets. Your records with your doctor, that’s a legitimate secret.”
But people are still being put at risk.
Three Saudi cables published by the WikiLeaks identified domestic workers who’d been tortured or sexually abused by their employers, giving the women’s full names and passport numbers. One cable named a male teenager who was raped by a man while abroad; a second identified another male teenager who was so violently raped his legs were broken; a third outlined the details of a Saudi man detained for “sexual deviation” — a derogatory term for homosexuality.
“Their understanding of journalism is finding an interesting document in a trash can and then dumping the can on your front door,” Vesselin Bontchev, a researcher at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences said.
Scott Long, an LGBT rights activist who has worked in the Middle East, said exposing the identities of rape victims and people persecuted for their sexuality is “off limits.”
“You’re legitimizing their surveillance, not combating it,” Long said.