Earlier this month, Wikileaks published a database of six years' of email from AKP, Turkey's ruling party — but as outside experts have plumbed that database, all they can find is archives from public mailing lists, old spam, and some sensitive personal information from private citizens.
This was just one of Wikileaks' recent missteps on Turkey. The organization also tweeted links to spreadsheets uploaded by national security blogger Michael Best, purported to contain further inside information on AKP, but which were actually voter information on all of the women registered to vote in 78 out of Turkey's 81 provinces. (Best acquired these spreadsheets from Phineas Fisher, a well-known hacker whose accomplishments include raiding and dumping the private files and email of cyber-arms-dealer Hacking Team).
The information in these spreadsheets put hundreds of thousands of women at risk of stalking, identity theft, and other exploits. Best quickly repudiated the files and the Internet Archive removed them; he has been canvassing people running mirrors of those files, asking them to remove them. He also apologized and offered an explanation of how this came to pass.
By contrast, Wikileaks has attacked Zeynep Tufekci for documenting their missteps. Tufekci is a well-known activist and writer on Turkey, a vocal critic of Erdogan and his use of internet censorship to consolidate power and suppress dissent. Wikileaks called her a "Erdogan apologist" (Wikileaks later deleted this tweet).
Tufekci has previously written in support of Wikileaks and condemned governments and companies for blocking access to the service. Like her, I have supported Wikileaks for publishing information in the public interest and condemned those who blocked and attacked the organization.
But there's a difference between censors who block the service or attempt to discredit it with lies, and people who support Wikileaks' goals but point out its errors. It's never a good feeling to realize that you've made a mistake, but if you lump anyone who points out your errors with your enemies, you'll quickly run out of friends; you'll also go on making the same mistakes.
I made a mistake in reporting on the Wikileaks Erdogan emails; at very least I should have been more cautious in my wording.
The flow of online information won't die because of government attempts at censorship — ordinary people around the world, including many in Turkey, are too good at circumventing blocks. Instead, it's these senseless violations of privacy that make people mistrust the free flow of information and instead support whatever governments say protects them. This leak, which has zero public interest, will regrettably be a talking point for people who support censorship.
This was a multi-party breach of ethics, starting first with people who collect and leave such information unencrypted on servers that are not well-protected; to people who hack such data without understanding what it is and then pass it on to others; to whoever sent it to WikiLeaks without vetting; to WikiLeaks for distributing it globally; to journalists who report uncritically about content from another country without working with someone who speaks the language and understands the country.
I hope that going forward, there will be more attention paid to each of these aspects and that all parties involved remember this example of ethical failure. We all need to reflect and learn from it.
WikiLeaks Put Women in Turkey in Danger, for No Reason (UPDATE)
[Zeynep Tufekci/Huffington Post]
(Image: Zeynep Tufekci, Personal Democracy Forum, CC-BY-SA)