Harold Koh, State Department

WikiLeaks Gives Diplomats Headaches and Lawyers Work

WikiLeaks worships at the shrine of rabid transparency. And it does not just sacrifice government documents to the transparency gods; founder Julian Assange tells my Forbes colleague Andy Greenberg that corporate America is the site’s next big target. A big bank is going down, says Assange.

Greenberg thinks it might be Bank of America. Dealbreaker has some additional theories. Most likely some bank somewhere is going to have a big project for its lawyers pretty soon.

Meanwhile, after the most recent State Department cable leak, government lawyers are trying to figure out how to prosecute Assange.  There’s talk of invoking the Espionage Act of 1917, regardless of the fact that Assange is an Australian citizen and spends his time country-hopping. G’day and g’luck, mate.

So, what about those juicy diplomatic cables? What did State Department legal adviser Harold Koh not want the world to see?

Among the confidential State Department cables published by WikiLeaks were instructions to State Department employees to conduct human intel, creating profiles of the people they encounter overseas, including their credit card numbers, Web handles, and even their frequent-flier account numbers.

Diplomats spy! Shocker. This can only be a surprise to those who don’t read John le Carré novels.

Stanford’s Consumer Privacy Project director Ryan Calo has an interesting take on privacy lessons to be learned from the disclosure. Calo starts off with this poetic take on the importance of privacy for intimacy and the development of relationships between friends, family members, and diplomats:

Privacy means that the individual may choose to whom to reveal the details of her inner life. A decision to trust begets trust, such that I will be more likely to reveal myself to those who reveal themselves to me. Escalating, mutual revelation is how friendships, families, and other intimacies often grow.

Calo goes on to compare State Department spying with websites spying on us and collecting our data. Does knowing that you’re being profiled inhibit your intimate moments — whether online or in diplomatic channels?

Continue reading.

Kashmir Hill is an editor emeritus at Above the Law. She’s now at Forbes writing about privacy, and the lack thereof, in the digital age.

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