Authors note: I was recently involved in a discussion on a private mailing list about Julian Assange’s recent diatribe against Facebook concerning privacy. I suggested this was hypocritical, and was asked why I thought Wikileaks had invaded people’s privacy. This is my reply, with only a few minor edits.
I believe that employees, including government/diplomatic employees (such as ambassadors) are entitled to a reasonable degree of privacy with regards to their work in the absence of evidence that they have misused it. This privacy was violated, IMO, by the public release of confidential advice (the diplomatic cables) that they had given their employer.
For my part I would certainly consider my privacy violated if my work email was publicly released, although I don’t think I have a great deal to be embarrassed about.
Mr. Assange is reported to have said that diplomats should only “write reports they are proud of” or something to that effect. This doesn’t make sense to me. A diplomat might be justifiably proud of accurate reporting and/or insight, but this doesn’t mean that the report won’t cause embarrassment, and quite possibly harm their career, if made public.
Facts exist, they aren’t something to be proud of or not. It is in the interest of everybody that the people making decisions know the facts as accurately as is possible, even if it is not reasonable under the circumstances to release them publicly. (For example, the public release of allegations of misconduct or criminal activity when you are unable to provide evidence would be unfair to the accused; the public release of information on the idiosyncrasies of foreign leaders would lead to your diplomatic service being expelled.)
HOWEVER, even if you disagree that diplomats have any right to privacy, the release of the cables also invaded the privacy of those that the diplomats were writing about. Making public various allegations of misconduct, when you have no knowledge yourself of the truth or falsity of these allegations, surely counts as an invasion of privacy?
Mr. Assange is also reported to have complained about the public release of the Swedish police report concerning the allegations against him. I see this as an even clearer case of hypocrisy, since the police (like the diplomats) are a Government agency; if the US diplomatic service shouldn’t keep secrets about third parties from the public, why should the Swedish police do so?
If only those cables (if any) that spoke to misconduct of the diplomats or of the US government had been released, I wouldn’t have any complaints. But so far I don’t think I’ve heard of a single released cable meeting that criteria. (If you would like to propose an example, please post a comment.)