Sunday Commentary: WikiLeaks and the Danger to Privacy


Last week, we had a discussion on whether WikiLeaks went too far in their release of hacked emails.  It was a topic of discussion that Glen Greenwald (no relation) had on the Intercept with author and activist Naomi Klein, who “believes there are serious threats to personal privacy and other critical political values posed by hacks of this sort, particularly when accompanied by the indiscriminate publication of someone’s personal emails.”

Mr. Greenwald writes, “While the significance of particular stories has been debated, there is no denying that many of those disclosures offer a valuable glimpse into campaign operatives who currently exercise great political power and who, as of January of next year, are likely to be among the most powerful officials on the planet.”

For Ms. Klein, they say, “The fact that the individual whose emails were hacked wields significant power may mitigate some of those concerns, but, she believes, it does not remotely obviate them. She also believes that while a public service has been performed by the reporting on some of these emails, media organizations (including The Intercept) have not sufficiently emphasized the dangers to personal privacy posed by the hacking of someone’s email inbox.”

Glen Greenwald highlighted two points – the actions of the hackers combined with WikiLeaks, and then what happens once those material become available – what is the duty of journalists?

Ms. Klein notes, “I would add that it’s not just that they didn’t curate it and dumped it all. They are dumping it, but they are doling out the dumps to maximize damage.”

She notes, “These leaks are not, in my opinion, in the same category as the Pentagon Papers or previous WikiLeaks releases like the trade documents they continue to leak, which I am tremendously grateful for, because those are government documents that we have a right to, that are central to democracy.”

She argues that “personal emails — and there’s all kinds of personal stuff in these emails — this sort of indiscriminate dump is precisely what Snowden was trying to protect us from.”

Recall, of course, that Glen Greenwald was central to the release of the Snowden papers.

She continues, “Certainly Podesta is a very powerful person, and he will be more powerful after Hillary Clinton is elected, if she’s elected, and it looks like she will be. But I’m concerned about the subjectivity of who gets defined as sufficiently powerful to lose their privacy because I am absolutely sure there are plenty of people in the world who believe that you and I are sufficiently powerful to lose our privacy, and I come to this as a journalist and author who has used leaked and declassified documents to do my work.”

Glen Greenwald pointed out that he has long been a defender of WikiLeaks, dating back to 2010, and part of the reason he did was that it “was not some reckless rogue agent running around sociopathically dumping information on the internet without concern about who might be endangered.”  He notes, about the early documents, “not only did they redact huge numbers of documents on the grounds that doing so was necessary to protect the welfare of innocent people, they actually requested that the State Department meet with them to help them figure out what kind of information should be withheld on the grounds that it could endanger innocent people.”

However, he notes, “Somewhere along the way, WikiLeaks and Julian decided, and they’ve said this explicitly, that they changed their mind on that question — they no longer believe in redactions or withholding documents of any kind.”

When they released the Snowden material, “we did not just take the archive and dump it on the internet, as a lot of people called for. We spent years very carefully curating it and keeping parts of it secret that might endanger individual privacy, harm people’s reputations unjustifiably, or otherwise put them in harm’s way.”

He adds, “I think WikiLeaks more or less at this point stands alone in believing that these kinds of dumps are ethically — never mind journalistically — just ethically, as a human being, justifiable.”

Ms. Klein notes, and I think correctly, that some of the material leaked by WikiLeaks Hillary Clinton had coming.  They should have released the bank speeches early on, and, because they refused to do so, it became more interesting and more newsworthy.

At the same time, she added, “It’s also the way in which it’s being released, to clearly maximize damage, and the recklessness about the implications of that when it comes to electing Trump.”  She states that “we have to acknowledge how political WikiLeaks and Julian are being here.”

Ms. Klein later adds, “I’m not comfortable with anybody wielding this much power.  I am not comfortable when it’s states, but I’m also not comfortable when it’s individuals or institutions. I don’t like people making decisions based on vendettas because the message it sends is: ‘If you cross me, this could happen to you.’ That’s a menacing message to send.”

Ms. Klein, at the same time, is not defending Hillary Clinton – which is part of why I have focused on this discussion.  My concern that I expressed last week is we have WikiLeaks, and I think people can and are reacting to this based on how they feel about Hillary Clinton.  What I was trying to do is push the conversation past the election to point out there is a real danger here in how this being done.

Ms. Klein notes, “I think the main thing we’ve learned from these emails is that the folks around Hillary Clinton are just as venal and corrupt as we thought they were, for the most part, with all the conflicts of interest.”

But she makes the point I was trying to make: “We’re getting it reinforced. If the price of having it reinforced, or having more people know it, is this idea that once you go into politics you lose all privacy, my concern is that decent people seeing this who do not have these values and these conflicts of interest will just go, ‘There’s no way I’m going into politics. I will not give up my privacy.’”

Glen Greenwald points out, “The more people start to fear that their emails are going to end up hacked and public, the less they’ll use emails. They’ll just stop using emails for anything beyond cursory transactions, and institutions will become more closed. They’ll be less capable of communicating internally.”

While Julian Assange of WikiLeaks clearly thinks that is a good thing, Glen Greenwald states, “I absolutely agree with you that there are very profound concerns about individual privacy that are being trampled over with these leaks and certainly with the ones to come. And we probably haven’t given that enough thought, primarily because what ends up happening is the leaks happen; journalists like me give lip service to the fact that it’s too bad they weren’t curated, they should have been; and then everyone starts digging into them for newsworthy stories.”

Where does this discussion leave us?  Neither Greenwald nor Klein supports the idea of shutting down the hackers or stopping efforts to make institutions more transparent.

While I support the idea of transparency, and agree with those who believe that Ms. Clinton has caused a lot of these problems by being too secretive. I believe there needs to be a space where people can have internal discussions without the worry that people will overhear them.

Does that mean that the next campaigns will take measures to encrypt their communications?  Probably.  Does that mean they will be reluctant to put incriminating things into email? Definitely.

When the Vanguard first used Public Records for email, we got a treasure trove of information, but after that the local actors avoided putting incriminating conversations on public email servers and, in the end, we ended up with probably less rather than more transparency.

In the end, it seems that this is not going to be fatal to Clinton’s election and that the powerful actors will simply adjust their tactics.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts


  1. South of Davis

    Naomi Klein said:

    > At the same time, she added, “It’s also the way in which it’s

    > being released, to clearly maximize damage

    I understand that David and Naomi are upset since the most recent are making their friends on the left look as bad (or worse) than the people on the right they so often complain about.

    As far as any “damage” I’m wondering if David (or Naomi) can name a single person who is saying “I’m shocked that Hillary supporters screwed Bernie and I’m voting for Trump”…

    Most of my Democrat friends think that Hillary is an evil warmongering liar, but are going to vote for her anyway (just like the few Republican friends I have who think that Trump is a crazy orange egomaniac are voting for him anyway).

    It takes more than a few thousand leaked e-mail to get most “blue team” members and/or “red team” members to vote for another team.

    P.S. I think “leaked” is a better term for most of the e-mails since no one “hacked” in to Google’s GMail system, they just logged in using Podesta’s password and got all his e-mails…

      1. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        > I don’t think you do understand since

        > I doubt Naomi is voting for Clinton

        I don’t want to “guess” who Naomi is voting for (if I had to guess it will be that she like most others on the left will hold their nose and vote Clinton knowing that Jill Stein is not going to be our next president).

        My question to David was not who do you “doubt” is voting for Clinton but do you know a single person (or even have read about a single person) that is changing their vote due to something from Wikileaks?

        1. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > Like yesterday an unanswerable question

          You may not be able to answer it, but it is not “an unanswerable question”…

          Just because you personally can’t name 50 Republicans that live in Davis does not make it “an unanswerable question”…

          Plenty of people have changed from Clinton to Trump and Trump to Clinton (like the Far Side creator Scott Adams and Jeb Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw)

          My point is not many (if any) people are changing from Clinton to Trump because of leaks that let people know she is (more of a) liar and (more of a) corporate shill…

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      I think both Hillary and Donald are scrapings from the bottom of the barrel. Neither can be trusted. I trust WikiLeaks more than I trust either of them and certainly more than I trust their minions. Keep the spotlights on high beam and keep the information leaking! Oink!!

      1. Tia Will

        Hi Napoleon,

        Neither can be trusted.”

        When I hear this phrase in a political setting, I am always curious about the context of the word “trust”. It might have many meanings. It might mean that one doesn’t trust the politician to “keep their promises”. But then no politician of whom I am aware, when faced with the realities and complexities of our governmental system has ever been able to “keep” all of their campaign “promises”. It might mean that one doesn’t “trust them” to even make a good faith effort to be true to their platform. It might mean that one doesn’t trust them to act the way the particular voter wants them to. Or it might mean that we don’t trust them not to start a war, as one of my friends said. Or it might have many, many other meanings.

        What did you mean by the word “trust” ?

        And on another point, if you believe that all private emails are fair game for leaking, do you feel that their private phones should also be tapped with every word subject to public scrutiny ?  How about their clothing clandestinely miked so that every word that they say can be subject to public inspection ?  This line of thought would seem more appropriate for an episode of “Black Mirror” than what would be desirable for our public officials.

        If this is what we truly desire for our public officials, how far down the chain are we willing to go ? Should our Mayor and CC members be subject to this kind of inspection ?  Who do we believe would step up if this is what we consider “transparency” ?


        1. Barack Palin

          What did you mean by the word “trust” ?

          Well for one thing Hillary has been proven to have lied and used deceit in trying to cover up her email and pay for play scandals.  When someone lies to me I don’t “trust” them anymore.


        2. Davis Progressive

          trump lies about everything.  it’s not clear he knows the difference between truth and a lie.  much more important issues here than that.  i see why the vanguard has largely avoided national stuff, the conversations quickly move away from the article.

          key points i think:

          1. wikileaks raised valid issues

          2. they should have curated the releases

          3. they maximized harm on one candidate

          4. they relied on stolen private information without discerning

          5. i do think this is dangerous

          6. barack palin will be angry at the next issue wl decides to release

          7.  i’m not voting for hillary

        3. Napoleon Pig IV

          “What did you mean by the word “trust” ?”

          There are several layers to “trust.” Of course I don’t trust any politician to keep promises. Sometimes that isn’t even the fault of a given politician, and sometimes a promise can be made in good faith and then impossible to keep due to changing circumstances.

          When politicians and their minions outright lie, that is a much more serious matter. That is fraud. Fraud leads to more serious crimes, like war, theft on a grand scale, unjust imprisonment, and even genocide.

          Positive evolution of human culture and civilization takes many meandering steps and some of them are not ideal or pleasant. WikiLeaks and organization like it are performing an important public services, and whatever their transgressions, I’d rather get at the truth with a little messiness than be plunged into darkness by deliberate deception.

        4. Frankly

          Interesting exchange between BP and DP.

          Hillary Clinton is and has been a top-level national politician for 30-years.  She has the had the benefit of thousands of top-level security briefings.  She is an attorney and in surrounded by attorneys all trained and educated in all the nuances of rules, regulations and laws concerning classified and non-classified information.

          It is just astounding to me the intellectual dishonesty or sheer unbridled “I love my candidate so much that she can kill kittens and I would still defend her” crap that we see from the left… but to excuse her misdeeds and then attempt to inflate Trump’s red-meat campaign rhetoric and being anything close to equivalent basically destroys any shred of credibility owned by those spouting the crap.

          Can I say crap again?

          Donald Trump is the unfortunate choice over this lying, cheating, law-breaking head of the criminal Clinton enterprise… but it is a clear choice.

          And since the MSM is in bed with the criminal Clinton enterprise, Wikileaks is to be lauded for getting the truth out to the American people.

  2. Barack Palin

    David’s just upset that his party and presidential candidate are being exposed showing the massive corruption from the top down.  I doubt we would be seeing these articles on the V if it were the GOP emails being exposed.

      1. David Greenwald

        Just as I view the issue of police issues critical to the Vanguard mission, so do I view open government, transparency and privacy critical to our mission which is why I have brought it up twice now.

  3. Eric Gelber

    Wikileaks’ mission changed from whistleblowing to blatant invasion of privacy for political purpose. Conservatives who gloat over the most recent leaks are being terribly shortsighted and disregard their principles and concerns over individual privacy rights. 

    Hacking, by the way, is the use of computers to gain unauthorized access to data and information. The unauthorized use of a password is hacking.

  4. Barack Palin

    My only problem is that mainstream media isn’t covering this enough, barely a peep out of the biased left wing press.  You know if this was about the GOP that MSM would be leading with this story every night.

  5. Tia Will


    I really cannot see how you can stand by the “barely a peep” statement when all of the major news outlets “on the left” have run stories on the Wikileaks “dumps”. A quick Google search demonstrates multiple articles on Wikileaks from all of what I would consider the major left leaning news outlets. Now if you mean to say that they are not portraying the leaks in the way that you would like to see them portrayed, that is an entirely different matter. But multiple articles from every major national source since the leaks started is hardly what I would call “barely a peep”.

    However, I believe that you are missing, or choosing not to respond to the much bigger issue that this could apply to any politician regardless of their ideology. There is a question of balance between a right to privacy and the importance of transparency. I cannot tell from your post whether or not you appreciate this point.

    1. Barack Palin

      Please, if these were GOP leaks the MSM would be pounding the air with stories every night.  Just last week a media watch org did a story where one national news show battered Trump for 28 minutes and did less than a minute on the just released Wikileaks.  “I believe” you’re letting your bias cloud your judgement.

      1. Tia Will


        “pounding the air”

        I think you have identified part of the difference in how we see things. I do not watch TV or listen to radio except for NPR during the morning commute. Since this is my sole exposure to visual or audible news, as opposed to print/ web, and since my sole source has referenced this story nearly everyday I think that we are simply referencing different sources of information.

  6. Napoleon Pig IV

    ” There is a question of balance between a right to privacy and the importance of transparency”

    I think it is important to distinguish between the right to privacy of a private citizen and that of an elected or appointed public official. The latter should have much less ability to hide their conflicts of interest, lies, and crimes than those not empowered with public treasure and government weapons.

      1. Napoleon Pig IV

        I don’t have enough information to have beliefs one way or the other, but I think it’s a decent risk to take.

        Has any government ever respected that difference?

        No? I rest my case. Oink!

  7. Tia Will

    The latter should have much less ability to hide their conflicts of interest, lies, and crimes than those not empowered with public treasure and government weapons.”

    Interesting choice of words since I do not believe that anyone should be able to hide their “conflicts of interest, lies, and crimes”. I do understand the need for greater transparency for public officials, but again, how far does it go. ? Should the CC members have their private conversations recorded ?  Should every word that a national candidate says to their spouse or child be fair game ?  Where does one decide where legitimate privacy should prevail and what constitutes “ability to hide their conflicts of interest, lies and crimes” and who gets to make this decision. I don’t pretend to know the answers. But I do know that the issue is complicated.

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      I agree the issue is complicated. To perhaps clarify or perhaps further complicate, I suggest the standards for public officials should more strongly favor transparency than the standards for private citizens.

      Many crimes are artifacts of bad lawmaking rather than actual wrong acts or deliberately harmful actions against another person. Since public officials bear the responsibility and the benefits of making and enforcing those laws, and are in a better position to misuse those laws, legally or illegally leaking information about their words and actions is fine by me, whether at the national or local level. If we believe there is a need to limit access to communicates between spouses and between parents and children, we can regulate such access in a manner that doesn’t create a haven for abuse of power and commission of public fraud.

      As for conflicts of interest, there is an important difference between conflicts that impact the drafting and passage of new laws, their selective enforcement, or access to and distribution of public funds.

      Finally, public lies designed to further the abuse of power, commission of fraud, or aggregation of power and theft of public wealth are of greater legitimate public interest than lies told privately to deceive, seduce, or even protect. Lying to a government official can be a matter of self defense. Lying by a public official should be examined in a bright spotlight of public disclosure.

  8. Marina Kalugin

    even MR> Julian Assange – who  is only one person – and a few friends cannot stop the massive corruption in this country…led by the likes of BO and HRC…- even way worse than the likes of Bush and his family and pals.
    [moderator: edited, off topic]

  9. Marina Kalugin

    and to blame anything on JA and Wikileaks is truly absurd…..if nothing else, we need more like him, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning….get rid of those who sell out the country for a dime…

    folks like BO, HRC, BC, JN etc…

    1. Marina Kalugin

      well duh…the oppressed become the oppressors and now some of these wikileaks aka anonymous folks are turning fascist?   that from inside sources who used to be or still may be…wikileaks and/or anonymous folks….now some are supporting anarchy…others fascism…did I predict this would get more and more “interesting” as Nov 8 approaches?   get out the popcorn, real life is way stranger than any fiction…


  10. Frankly

    Hillary hangs an unsecured private email server on the Internet and uses it for classified communications and then decries hacking.  And her supporters lack intellectual honesty to even criticize it.

    1. Chamber Fan

      It was a stupid move and she clearly didn’t understand how badly she compromised our system.  That doesn’t justify WikiLeaks’ exploitation of that stupid move.

        1. Chamber Fan

          Misuse of the word “disqualify” – probably one of the most over-used words this cycle.  There are few formal requirements and a limited number of ways to be formally disqualified.  Everything else is up to the judgment of the voters.

        2. Barack Palin

          Really, even though she was Sec of State you say she was too naive to understand how much she compromised our system but she’s still presidential material?

  11. Marina Kalugin

    don’t be so f@@@@@@@@@ naive ….she signed documents when she started working for the Fed government….and she knew exactly what she was doing….she knew her pals and the election fraud machine would protect her sorry ass….

    This from some new faculty who used to work at the NIH>…they were surprised when I was griping about the new NSA regulations at the UC which the Pres Napo put in place…and said, that everyone at the NIH and other Fed agencies signs documents….of course so did the liar HRC>>>
    She would rather share state secrets with the other countries than follow the rules…or else, she may get caught for more crimes…


Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for