schulman 3-20
March 20, 2017

SCHULMAN | Prioritize Privacy Over Partisanship

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Although politics make me want to vomit, every semester there’s a political issue I weigh in on. This semester, it’s Wikileaks’ high profile leak of CIA hacking materials: Vault 7. Last week, my Reddit exploded with coverage and I’m bothered by the lack of mainstream outlets’ explanation of the leaks.

This is another missed opportunity to start a national conversation about digital privacy. There are an uncomfortable amount of gray areas involving digital privacy — specifically, monitoring people’s digital habits without their explicit permission. Your computer says a lot about you — you can learn a lot about someone by looking at their Netflix. All kidding aside, passive aggressively letting technological capability decide what is acceptable until it becomes a problem is not the proper course of action.

Even worse, media outlets dismissed the leaks as a “distraction” from inquiries into US Attorney General Jeff Sessions meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Attacking Wikileaks’ sources is unapologetically ad hominem. It avoids discussing the ethics of the CIA’s extensive program to monitor civilians via the exploitation of consumer technology.

Discussing the CIA’s hacking exploits is really important. You should not think that you are safe just because you have nothing to hide. People don’t act the same when they’re monitored, and spying on civilians feels uncomfortably like the practices of a police state out of a novel like 1984.

It is also comically partisan to prioritize Russian influence over CIA overreach. This is the first time Democrats view the CIA more keenly than Republicans. This change in sentiment isn’t ideological — at least I hope not. Giving the CIA a pass for hacking foreign governments but throwing a fit when Russia hacks us is incredibly hypocritical. Most likely, this change happened because in politics the enemy of the my enemy is my friend. Democrats are also salty about Wikileaks for publishing John Podesta’s emails this fall.

However, this isn’t a partisan issue; Wikileaks isn’t partisan. Obviously, Wikileaks knew the implications of Podesta’s emails on this fall election, but they weren’t so calculated. Wikileaks wouldn’t have hesitated to publish RNC emails if they could get them. But, hacking is hard, and in some cases impossible. Getting John Podesta’s emails involved an insanely unlucky typo. He gave away his email credentials because his tech staff accidentally implied a phishing email was legitimate.

And of course, I’ll admit Wikileaks’ relationship with Russia raises eyebrows. The leaks this fall likely originated with hackers sponsored by the Russian government. And, the Russian government (like every other government) was interested the race’s outcome. But, Wikileaks is anything but a Russian puppet. They’ve thrown Russia’s government under the same bus as the CIA, John Podesta and many others. During the height of the Syrian civil war, they didn’t hesitate publishing diplomatic cables between Putin and Assad —these cables had serious implications.

So if it wasn’t clear, dismissing the Wikileaks’s Vault 7 documents as Russian propaganda is ad hominem, hypocritical and comically partisan. These documents should kickstart the national discussion on digital privacy. That’s my schtick and I’m sticking to it. Let’s finally start the discussion about digital privacy. Tune in next time for more.

 

Eric Schulman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at eschulman@cornellsun.com. Schulman’s Schtick runs every other Monday this semester.