Consider the gray area in cybersecurity

On March 13, CIA director Mike Pompeo said in a speech that the CIA is an intelligence organization that unapologetically engages in foreign espionage.

“We focus on collecting information about foreign governments, foreign terrorist organizations, and the like — not Americans,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo also said organizations such as WikiLeaks walk and talk like hostile intelligence organizations, and people such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange seek only to make a name for themselves with no regard for national security.

There is no question that WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden have caused problems for national security. According to a report by the House Intelligence Committee, Snowden’s documents allegedly revealed details of defense and intelligence programs to enemies of the United States. However, it cannot be denied that the information Snowden released exposed National Security Administration (NSA) programs that were illegal and infringing on the rights of Americans. The NSA cellphone data collection programs exposed in the Snowden documents were deemed illegal under the Patriot Act in 2015.

The most recent WikiLeaks Vault 7 dump, which details CIA hacking programs and techniques, does not seem to be nearly as big of a deal as WikiLeaks is making it out to be, although it is one of the largest classified document dumps in history. In fact, Dan Tentler, founder and CEO of the Phobos Group security firm, told CNN that the programs revealed in Vault 7 are nothing special and are tools that already exist and are being used by many hackers, not just those at the CIA.

The New York Times reported that there is no evidence these programs have been used on Americans. However, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union told the New York Times that it appears that the vulnerabilities in cell phones and other technology were not corrected to prevent further spying. The documents do raise the question of why the CIA did not work to secure American phones to prevent others from spying on Americans. But, like I said, they do not reveal that the government was actively spying on Americans.

All the Vault 7 dump seemed to accomplish was making Americans worry that their smart TV’s are recording their conversations, which was a concern raised by manufactures like Samsung in 2015.

So, before you decide that WikiLeaks and whistleblowers are always good or always bad, look at the facts of each situation. Does the information reveal that our government has infringed on our rights, our privacy or both? Does revealing the information put lives at risk? Is the information really as big of a deal as the sources who reveal it tell you it is? These are questions that cannot be answered by getting your information solely from the whistleblower or from a movie about Edward Snowden. Look for articles and analysis from a variety of sources, then decide.

The beauty of democracy is that we have the power and right to know what our government is doing. Of course, there will always be cases when that is impossible, and I would like to believe that the U.S. government never knowingly deceives the electorate, but that is wishful thinking. The issue of WikiLeaks and whistleblowers is not all black and white. There is a considerable gray area we have to consider when determining what is most important in each situation: national security or personal rights and privacy.