By posting Podesta’s emails, WikiLeaks is invading the private space of American citizens.
George Orwell’s classic book 1984 tells the story of a world where every action of private citizens is monitored and watched by “Big Brother.” Years after I first read it, I remain haunted by the image of the two-way video screen allowing the government to look inside people’s homes.
Today, it is WikiLeaks, not the government, acting as Big Brother invading the private space of American citizens.
This past week WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta. John Podesta is a private citizen of the United States who holds no position in government.
From 1998 to 2001, he served as White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton. But the leaked emails, posted on WikiLeaks as “The Podesta Emails,” do not come from the time he served in that official governmental capacity. Nor do any of the emails coincide with the time that Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State. The emails are internal communication of private citizens of the United States holding no official role in the United States government.
As private citizens, they have rights protected by the United States Constitution.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees: “The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
The Fifth Amendment guarantees that no citizen shall be: “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
WikiLeaks trampled on Podesta’s right to be secure in his papers and effects and subjected him to unreasonable searches and seizures. WikiLeaks used stolen private email communication for the public use of influencing a Presidential election.
In posting Podesta’s emails, WikiLeaks claims that citizens of the United States do not have the right to be secure in private communication with family, friends, and associates. It transforms private space in which feelings are shared, ideas are tested, and opinions formed, into public space that people must be held accountable for. It states that every time we push the send button on an email, even if just sent privately to a friend, we’ve actually entered a statement into the public record and must be prepared to give a defense.
I do not object to WikiLeaks posting the “Hillary Clinton Email Archive” containing 30,322 emails and email attachments that were sent to and from Clinton’s private email server while she was Secretary of State. Nor do I object to the “Detainee Policies” WikiLeaks has posted, the 100 classified or otherwise restricted files from the United States Department of Defense covering rules and procedures for detainees; or the “Gitmo Files,” the thousands of pages of documents from 2002 to 2008 that describe cases of prisoners held at Guantanamo.
These are files of official material. They contain communication, actions, and policies undertaken by governmental officials on behalf of the American people.
Transparency is a healthy hallmark of democracy. While the material may be a source of embarrassment for public officials, a case can be made that the American people have a right to know about work done on our behalf.
Posting the private emails of citizens of the United States, however, is a threat to democracy.
Sadly, others have eagerly joined WikiLeaks in violating private space.
The press pounces on these stolen emails and highlights the juiciest of details. From among the thousands of emails released, they cherry pick the most dramatic and use headlines such as “the latest fallout from the damaging email revelations.”
At a campaign rally Donald Trump exclaimed “WikiLeaks is amazing!” and read from them word for word. I don’t think he would find WikiLeaks so amazing if thousands of his own emails, or those of his campaign managers, or those of the Republican National Committee during the primary season, were posted on WikiLeaks as “The Trump Files.”
This time Democrats are the victims. Next time Republicans may be the victims.
Ultimately, however, all Americans are victims.
Private space is invaded.
Big Brother WikiLeaks is watching.