By Melissa Dobstaff
Antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks is back in the news once again after releasing a large batch of Central Intelligence Agency (hereinafter “C.I.A.”) documents. The recently released documents disclose the sophisticated software hacking tools that the C.I.A. has at their disposal. While WikiLeaks initially released a total of 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, the entire collection of C.I.A. materials amounts to hundreds of millions of lines of computer code, which WikiLeaks intends to release in a series of later installments.
In the wake of the release of these documents the C.I.A. is about to face several serious problems. Humiliation is just one of the tribulations that the C.I.A. can expect to encounter because as a government agency tasked with stealing the secrets of others, they have not successfully managed to keep their own. Once the C.I.A. can move beyond the embarrassment of this leak, they will likely come up against questions from the general public about whether the C.I.A.’s capabilities have expanded too far, especially because the vast majority of these hacking tools are targeting consumer devices.
The fact that the C.I.A. now has the capability to hack Apple and Android smartphones is causing concern about whether these hacking tools are being used upon American citizens. While there is no evidence available to suggest that the C.I.A. has taken such actions, WikiLeaks stated that their source felt the need to divulge information about the C.I.A.’s cyber-activities because it should be a topic of public debate. Essentially the source wants people to consider whether or not the C.I.A.’s hacking capabilities have expanded beyond the agency’s mandated powers, and also whether the C.I.A. should be creating and using these tools as cyberweapons.
While there is a fair bit of speculation as to who might have been the source to bring all of these C.I.A. documents to WikiLeaks, the issues brought to the surface are still valid. When we stop to consider the use of these hacking tools on American citizens, the backlash that the C.I.A. would face if that were revealed to be true could result in irreparable damage to the agency’s reputation. As an intelligence agency, the C.I.A. is tasked with collecting and evaluating foreign intelligence in order to assist the president in making decisions regarding national security. On the whole, the C.I.A. is not to be collecting information on American citizens or spying on them in any manner unless an individual is suspected to be involved in terrorist activities or espionage. With that being said, if the C.I.A. were to arbitrarily put these hacking tools to use on American citizens, they would be acting beyond their mandated powers and we could likely expect to see the executive branch respond.
Considering whether the C.I.A. should even be developing and using these hacking tools in the first place is something else to contemplate. The technology itself, if only being used to gather foreign intelligence is something that most Americans would likely not oppose because gathering foreign intelligence helps with national security. Additionally, if the C.I.A. wasn’t developing these tools then most people in the security industry expected that other countries would, leaving Americans more vulnerable to being hacked and spied on. The use of the technology is really a double-edged sword, we want the benefits it offers but we are not fully ready to condone its use in all situations. Now unfortunately due to the release by WikiLeaks, the C.I.A. may end up losing some of its intended intelligence targets, who as a result of this leak have learned to change their behaviors and better protect themselves against these hacking tools.
Overall, this latest release by WikiLeaks raises some serious questions about the C.I.A.’s actions and we can only hope that this release will force the C.I.A. to provide some answers. The development of technology and hacking capabilities is not something that we are unfamiliar with, but the idea that these tools are targeted at civilians is where the crux of the problem lies. Bottom line is that the C.I.A. now has some explaining to do and WikiLeaks is not about to drop the issue, as we will likely see as they release subsequent installments of these C.I.A. documents.
Student Bio: Melissa Dobstaff is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology. She is currently a 2L at Suffolk University Law School. She holds a B.S. in International Business Management with a minor in Spanish from Youngstown State University and a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies from Kent State University. Melissa is the Vice President of the Business Law Association for the 2016-17 academic year.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.