WikiLeaks Info Raises Issues, Affects Election

By: Elizabeth Lilienthal, 1L
Staff Writer

Julian Assange, leak extraordinaire, basks his snow white locks in the glory of a messy 2016 US election. | Source: independent.co.uk

Julian Assange, leak extraordinaire, basks his snow
white locks in the glory of a messy 2016 US election. | Source: independent.co.uk

Julian Assange and his organization, WikiLeaks, are known for publishing controversial information. Assange started WikiLeaks as a means of advocating a more open government by revealing “the truth.”  The organization released emails from Hillary Clinton´s campaign chairman, John Podesta, regarding the Democratic National Committee, with additional information on the Hillary Clinton campaign. While the source of the emails is unknown, it is speculated that Russian hackers broke into the Democratic Party’s accounts.  e emails describe the political corruption that has been occurring within the Democratic Party, such as the DNC working against Bernie Sanders during the primary. The emails also reveal that her views regarding banking, borders, and trade differ depending on with whom she is meeting. Additionally, the emails demonstrate her close connections with reporters and journalists. Although the emails released by WikiLeaks cast the Clinton campaign in a negative light, they do not directly attack her as a person.  e way Americans view her based upon what WikiLeaks has revealed is a matter of personal perception and is probably influenced by preexisting opinions of her. Regardless, there are many elements to this that Americans must consider. 

The legal issue revolves around whether illegally obtained documents may appropriately be used in election campaigns. Most American voters will consider how the documents were obtained after analyzing their contents. Although people have the right to know information that is important for public interest, it is also crucial that every citizen, including politicians, has the right to privacy. Overstepping these bounds in the public arena may lead to unintended consequences in the private sphere. While Democrats argue that these emails should not be included in political discourse, Republicans maintain that this information supports their allegations of a corrupt Clinton campaign.

More recently, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London cut to Assange’s internet access. It is speculated that the United States is somehow involved. Does this limitation of WikiLeaks’s publishing of information infringe upon our right to free speech, or is the argument that this prevents the release of stolen documents justify the action?

Similarly, the National Security Agency (NSA) admitted obtaining access to emails through internet service providers. While it claims its sole purpose is scanning for terrorist communications, these emails have not been provided with the author’s consent. One might ask, what is the difference between NSA and WikiLeaks?  The significance of this comparison would have direct effects if criminal behavior were exposed through either WikiLeaks or NSA scanning; would this information be admissible to federal or state courts? Most likely, the answer is no, as this information was illegally obtained. 

The existence of international hacking, through which WikiLeaks obtains its information, is where the issue really lies. Federal security and intelligence agencies assert that the Russian government was responsible for hacking the emails of Democratic officials. Does this behavior constitute a cyberattack on the United States? The federal government has threatened a cyber counterattack. Under this interpretation, WikiLeaks becomes an agent of war and thus may render them a criminal enterprise, rather than an agent of free speech. 

The evolution of releasing illicitly obtained information, to government- sponsored access to private communications, to foreign government invasions of personal information demonstrates that WikiLeaks not only creates an argument about free speech, but will also have worldwide implications in how governments treat individuals and how foreign entities conduct warfare. One reason that the Trump campaign has proposed that no Trump emails have been released is that he simply does not email. Is this an example that all citizens will need to follow if this type of behavior by WikiLeaks is permissible? International courts must determine if illicitly obtained corporate, political, or personal email information is allowable in such situations. Regardless of how governments choose to handle this, it is important to note that technology is never safe; information is always subject to being illegally obtained.

So, what effect did WikiLeaks ultimately have on the American presidential election? How this information was obtained seems to be an afterthought to the average voter; people are more concerned about the contents of the emails. Even if the information is deemed illegal, the information is already available to the public and may have in uenced undecided voters. For example, it may have resulted in fewer Bernie Sanders’ supporters voting for Hillary Clinton. Any effects that WikiLeaks had, however, were marginal; most voters had already decided for whom they would vote before WikiLeaks was involved.

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