The Responsibilities of Hacktavism

This week’s lecture had me thinking, “Freedom to the people! Down with the institutions!” Ted spoke about Internet hackers and their ability to release important and hidden information to the general public. It seemed that these hackers were kind of like the Robin Hoods of the online world, except instead of taking wealth they were giving back the truth.

However, I’m inclined to be a tad cynical when it comes to this type of utopian thinking and so I wondered if the hackers had any responsibilities in sharing information. My mind went straight to the case of Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden is a former NSA employee who leaked numerous classified documents detailing global surveillance programs in the U.S. If you don’t know much about this I suggest you watch this John Oliver clip (I know its long but its so worth it!)

What was interesting was that despite stealing the documents, Snowden didn’t want to take the responsibility of releasing them, stating in an interview on the documentary Citizenfour that, “Honestly I don’t want to be the person making the decisions on what should be public and what shouldn’t, which is why, rather than publishing these on my own or putting them out openly, I’m running them through journalists.”

This seems like a responsible action until you consider the consequences of giving a third party the power of censoring sensitive information. In fact, the New York Times actually failed to redact information that revealed that the U.S. was monitoring Al Qaeda in Mosul. In his interview John Oliver refers to this as “a fuckup” and tells Snowden he has to take responsibility for that mistake. Further, upon being asked if he’d read all of the documents Snowden replies that he understands them. Oliver points out that this is not the same as reading the documents, which again brings attention to the responsibility of hackers. Is it responsible for hackers to take the stance of Julian Assange and “let people fight with the truth”? Should they have to read all the documents they release and select the ones that are safe or should they release everything in the name of the truth?

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