Can you trust Wikileaks?

“Gun camera footage of the airstrike of 12 July 2007 in Baghdad, showing the slaying of Namir Noor-Eldeen and a dozen other civilians by an US helicopter.” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons at

During the last U.S. presidential election campaign Wikileaks drew extensive news coverage, as it released data from the Democratic National Committee shortly before the election took place. In March Wikileaks released a massive amount of data regarding CIA’s espionage capabilities. But how does Wikileaks fact-check its data? Can you trust that what it posts is real and not a hoax? If you’ve ever wondered about this, then you might want to listen the BBC World Service podcast, the Inquiry, which has an episode titled “Can you believe what you read on Wikileaks?” You can also find the episode on Stitcher here. What’s fascinating about this podcast is that the journalist interviewed disillusioned members of Wikileaks itself. The bottom line is that the data released to date has been very reliable. At the same time, Assange has nearly total control over what is released, and so his agenda determines Wikileak’s decisions.

There has recently been a great deal of discussion regarding whether Wikileaks has released information obtained from the Russian state. Assange has denied this. Still, it’s also perfectly possible that the Russian state may be running a false-flag operation -an idea as old as espionage itself- in order to pass on information to Wikileaks. More important, however, is the fact that Wikileaks is very much defined by the decisions of a single individual. The podcast discusses Assange’s history, motivations and relationships, to try put Wikileaks into context as a political actor.

Shawn Smallman

Digital Surveillance and Privacy

NORFOLK, Va. (Dec. 3, 2008) Sailors on the watch-floor of the Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command monitor, analyze, detect and defensively respond to unauthorized activity within U.S. Navy information systems and computer networks. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis/Released) via Wikimedia Commons.

I am currently teaching an online class on Digital Globalization, and we have just finished the section of the course that deals with surveillance and privacy. For a recent discussion question I asked students if they were more concerned about surveillance by the government or by corporations. Last year, my students were much more worried about how corporations tracked their activities. This year, however, many of my students say that they are not overly worried about both, but they are also ambivalent. After students say that they they think that they live relatively boring lives, so that the government would have no interest in their activities, they’ll often point to one event or issue that concerns them. What I realized after reading their posts was that I may have asked the wrong question. It’s not that students are worried about their online activities being tracked. Instead, they are much more concerned about the Internet of Things, and how a hacker might use the camera in their security system to observe them, or a device with a microphone to record their conversations. They worry less about who might be watching their internet searches, than the possibility that their devices might record their speech or images.

One of my students also shared an article on Bloomberg with me, “Microsoft Allowed to Sue U.S. Government Over E-mail Surveillance,” by Kartikay Mehrotra. At issue was whether Microsoft had the right to tell people when the government may have accessed their emails. …

Wikileaks needs to make a moral case

After a military faction recently sought to overthrow the Turkish government by a coup, Turkey’s President Erdogan launched a massive and extreme purge of the nation’s military, academia, and judiciary. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, or been arrested. The government even created a separate cemetery for dead coup plotters. While the United States and European governments had condemned the coup, they were deeply disturbed by the extremism of Erdogan’s response. For European governments, the question was particularly difficult because they had relied on a deal with Turkey to end the flood of Middle Eastern migrants to Europe. The country is currently under a three month state of emergency. Amnesty International has denounced the climate of fear endured by journalists. The International Studies Association has denounced the attack on academic freedom in Turkey. …

Cypherpunks’ strange fight for freedom

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet is a short, engaging and provocative look at surveillance and freedom on the internet. The book records a series of discussions between Assange and his co-authors (Jacob Applebaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn and Jeremie Zimmerman) on March 20, 2012 (while he was under house arrest in the UK), which was later edited for readability and coherence (p. 6). As a result, the reader feels as though they are eavesdropping on particularly interesting conversation in a pub, but a conversation by people who have great expertise in their fields. A front sheet on the book provides the essential context for this conversation: “What is a Cypherpunk? Cypherpunks advocate for the use of cryptography and similar methods as a away to achieve societal and political change. Founded in the early 1990s, the movement has been most active during the 1990s `cryptowars’ and following the 2011 internet spring.” The book reads as an introduction as much to the political philosophy of this group as it does to the technical issues involved in modern encryption debates. …

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