CAIRO (AP) — WikiLeaks’ global crusade to expose government secrets is causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill, The Associated Press has found.
In the past year alone, the radical transparency group has published medical files belonging to scores of ordinary citizens while many hundreds more have had sensitive family, financial or identity records posted to the web. In two particularly egregious cases, WikiLeaks named teenage rape victims. In a third case, the site published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move given that homosexuality is punishable by death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom.
“They published everything: my phone, address, name, details,” said a Saudi man who told AP he was bewildered that WikiLeaks had 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.”
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.
Attempts to reach WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were unsuccessful; a set of questions left with his site wasn’t immediately answered Tuesday. In a tweet responding to AP’s story, the organization said the privacy allegations were “recycled” and “not even worth a headline.”
WikiLeaks’ stated mission is to bring censored or restricted material “involving war, spying and corruption” into the public eye, describing the trove amassed thus far as a “giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents.”
The library is growing quickly, with half a million files from the U.S. Democratic National Committee, Turkey’s governing party and the Saudi Foreign Ministry added in the last year or so. But the library is also filling with rogue data, including computer viruses, spam, and a compendium of personal records.
The Saudi diplomatic cables alone hold at least 124 medical files, according to a sample analyzed by AP. Some described patients with psychiatric conditions, seriously ill children or refugees.
“This has nothing to do with politics or corruption,” said Dr. Nayef al-Fayez, a consultant in the Jordanian capital of Amman who confirmed that a brain cancer patient of his was among those whose details were published to the web.
Dr. Adnan Salhab, a retired practitioner in Jordan who also had a patient named in the files, expressed anger when shown the document.
“This is illegal what has happened,” he said in a telephone interview. “It is illegal!”
The AP, which is withholding identifying details of most of those affected, reached 23 people – most in Saudi Arabia – whose personal information was exposed. Some were unaware their data had been published; WikiLeaks is censored in the country. Others shrugged at the news. Several were horrified.
One, a partially disabled Saudi woman who’d secretly gone into debt to support a sick relative, said she was devastated. She’d kept her plight from members of her own family.
“This is a disaster,” she said in a phone call. “What if my brothers, neighbors, people I know or even don’t know have seen it? What is the use of publishing my story?”