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WikiLeaks 'violated privacy of hundreds of Arabs'

The library is growing quickly with half a million files added last year [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 August, 2016

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WikiLeaks, which touts itself as a platform for whistleblowers, is violating the privacy of ordinary, vulnerable people and putting others at risk in the Middle East, an AP investigation claims.
WikiLeaks, which has long touted itself as a platform for whistleblowers, is violating the privacy of ordinary, vulnerable people and putting others at risk in repressive states in the Middle East, an Associated Press investigation claimed.

The investigation analysed dumps of leaked documents, including Saudi diplomatic cables published on WikiLeaks' site, and found sensitive documents, such as medical records belonging to ordinary Saudis and other Arabs.

People affected include survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill, the news agency said.

"In the past year alone, the radical transparency group has published medical files belonging to scores of ordinary citizens while many hundreds more have had sensitive family, financial or identity records posted to the web."

"In two particularly egregious cases, WikiLeaks named teenage rape victims. In a third case, the site published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move given that homosexuality is punishable by death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom," AP said.

Although the international press agency withheld the names of people affected, it contacted a number of them to confirm their privacy had been violated.

"They published everything: my phone, address, name, details," said a Saudi man who told AP he was bewildered that WikiLeaks had revealed the details of a paternity dispute with a former partner. "If the family of my wife saw this ... Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people."

This is at odds with WikiLeaks' stated claim of championing privacy.

People affected include survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill, AP said.

The Saudi diplomatic cables hold at least 124 medical files, according to a sample analysed by AP. Some described patients with psychiatric conditions, seriously ill children or refugees.

"This has nothing to do with politics or corruption," said Dr Nayef al-Fayez, a consultant in the Jordanian capital of Amman who confirmed that a brain cancer patient of his was among those whose details were published online.

Adnan Salhab, a retired practitioner in Jordan who also had a patient named in the files, expressed anger when shown the document by AP.

One partially disabled Saudi woman said she was devastated by the revelation regarding her financial issues.

"This is a disaster," she said in a phone call, "What if my brothers, neighbours, people I know or even don't know have seen it? What is the use of publishing my story?"

The library is also filling with rogue data, including computer viruses, spam, and a compendium of personal records.

The library is growing quickly, with half a million files from the US Democratic National Committee, Turkey's governing party and the Saudi Foreign Ministry added in the last year or so.

But the library is also filling with rogue data, including computer viruses, spam, and a compendium of personal records.

AP, citing experts, said the number of people affected may be in the hundreds. It independently found three dozen records pertaining to family issues in the cables - including messages about marriages, divorces, missing children, elopements and custody battles. 

"Many are very personal, like the marital certificates which reveal whether the bride was a virgin," the report said.

Others deal with Saudis who are deeply in debt, including one man who says his wife stole his money. One divorce document details a male partner's infertility. Others identify the partners of women suffering from sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C.

AP says three Saudi cables published by WikiLeaks identified domestic workers who had been tortured or sexually abused by their employers, giving the women's full names and passport numbers. 

Three Saudi cables published by WikiLeaks identified domestic workers who had been tortured or sexually abused by their employers, giving the women's full names and passport numbers.


"One cable named a male teenager who was raped by a man while abroad; a second identified another male teenager who was so violently raped his legs were broken; a third outlined the details of a Saudi man detained for "sexual deviation" - a derogatory term for homosexuality."

Scott Long, an LGBT rights activist who has worked in the Middle East, told the agency the names of rape victims were off-limits. And he worried that releasing the names of people persecuted for their sexuality only risked magnifying the harm caused by oppressive officials.

"You're legitimising their surveillance, not combating it," Long said.

AP also found that WikiLeaks routinely published identity records, phone numbers and other information easily exploited by criminals.

Experts who spoke to AP blamed WikiLeaks' "carelessness" on its publishing policy and lack of screening, due to both its founder's rush to get the leaks out and lack of resources.

"For him [Julian Assange], the ends justify the means," Lisa Lynch, who teaches media and communications at Drew University and has followed WikiLeaks for years, said.

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