If you’ve been following old posts/comments (here and here), you know that I’ve been debating the release of the actual database that Norm Coleman’s Web team apparently left exposed last January. Some people think exposing the private data of others is worth it in order to press the point that Coleman should’ve (a) locked down the data when local Web sleuths found it where it shouldn’t have been and (b) should’ve followed state law by notifying people that their data had been exposed.
But did whoever leaked the database when it was discovered also contribute to the dangers that exposed data presents? InfoWorld’s Robert X. Cringley gives the Coleman campaign the “what for,” but reserves a small shot at the decision by wikileaks to post the data, even if part of it was removed.
Meanwhile, Wikileaks continues to walk a fine line between serving the public good and abetting private disasters. If my information were on either of those databases, I’d be unhappy with both Coleman and the whistle-blowers. They could have easily made their point and still redacted enough information to make it hard for thieves to get anything useful out of it.
Instead, it’s party time for Net scammers, and Hell on earth for 50,000-plus Minnesotans who were just trying to support the candidate of their choice.
Not all are Minnesotans. Political blogger Eric Ostermeier has download the data and is using part of it to analyze Coleman’s donors by occupation and geographic location and found most of them are out of state.
I asked Ostermeier on Friday whether he considered there to be an ethical considerations in using the leaked data, He responded that there are parts of the data that would be unethical to use, and parts that wouldn’t.
Regarding the aggregated state-level data I analyzed on Thursday’s blog, as well as the aggregated occupation-level data on today’s blog, all of this information is publicly available through FEC Disclosure Reports (as well the amount contributed by each individual, and the city, zip code, and date of contribution).
What my blog did was simply report, at the aggregate level, on those 4,700+ compromised donors to Coleman’s ’08 campaign.
There is some data, obviously, that I consider “off-limits” and that is the data that is not publicly available – such as e-mail addresses, credit card information etc.
Your question gets to the ‘fruits of the poison tree’ dilemma, but, in my view, the ethical considerations are fairly black and white as to what can or should be analyzed.
(Update Sunday 10:41 p.m. – Eric provides a full post on the subject.)
Meanwhile, some criticism of Wikileaks may be coming after MinnPost reported that the site sent emails to everyone on the list looking for comment about the situation, and apparently claimed it was doing so on behalf of a pool of news organizations. Some news organizations have responded that they joined no such pool.
Update 9:27 a.m. Sun – Adria Richards, who found the database, was on MSNBC.
In other media interviews, and in her own video explaining how she found the data, she points out she did not download the database. “I won’t download and acquire someone else’s information without their permission even if it is legal to do so,” she told me via Twitter.