Speaking of “social warfare” in the news, it quickly crosses the lines into dangerous, illegal territory when political activists engage in doxxing. Shortly after New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon put out the call to abolish the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) others decided to up the ante considerably. The names and addresses of ICE agents and other agency employees were posted on Wikileaks, apparently gleaned from Linkedin and other sources. This was clearly intended as an intimidation tactic at a minimum but opens the door to actual doxxing and the risk of injury or death to the agents. So why would Wikileaks stoop to such a level? For “accountability” of course. (WaPo)
WikiLeaks on Thursday published a database identifying more than 9,000 supposed current and former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, saying it is important for “increasing accountability.”
The database contains the employees’ publicly available personal information and job history scraped from LinkedIn, including deportation officers, IT workers, human resource interns and legal assistants, among others. The list includes their LinkedIn profile photos and information on their educational background and the city and state in which they’re based.
“This information is an important public resource for understanding ICE programs and increasing accountability, especially in light of the extreme actions taken by ICE lately, such as the separation of children and parents at the US border,” WikiLeaks wrote in its description of the data set.
I highly doubt whoever posted that Wikileaks entry was able to keep a straight face while typing that line. Posting the private information of agency employees has absolutely nothing to do with “understanding ICE programs” since the employees aren’t doing much investigative work in their houses or apartments. And accountability involves investigations of and debates over the people creating and implementing agency policy, not the drones carrying out the work at street level. This is an obvious invitation for bad actors to attempt to at least harass, if not bring real harm to people working for ICE.
The only advantage that the employees might have here (and this isn’t definite by any means) is that local law enforcement might be aware of where the ICE agents live. That way, when a false call comes in attempting to send armed officers into a confrontation at the residence, the police may be aware that it’s an agent’s house and try to contact them directly before breaking down the doors.
In terms of what to do about it, it’s worth noting where all of this came from. Tech Crunch had an article this weekend providing the details of how web developer Sam Lavigne posted code on a number of platforms which was designed to “scrape” Linkedin to find anyone associated with ICE. Wikileaks also republished the code after it was pulled from most of the sites that published it.
That article includes some jaw-dropping defenses of doxxing in general as well as some legal opinions about what the fallout from this action might be. There’s also this incredible quote from Levine himself, describing how this is a great way to stick it to the man.
“I find it helpful to remember that as much as internet companies use data to spy on and exploit their users, we can at times reverse the story, and leverage those very same online platforms as a means to investigate or even undermine entrenched power structures. It’s a strange side effect of our reliance on private companies and semi-public platforms to mediate nearly all aspects of our lives. We don’t necessarily need to wait for the next Snowden-style revelation to scrutinize the powerful — so much is already hiding in plain sight,” said Lavigne.
Will the authorities be paying Mr. Levine a visit over this? Probably not. His tool is providing a way to access open source information. It’s the people who use it to ill intent who should be worried.