Leaks about the practices of the government have an air of eventuality to them. It’s only a matter of time before a disgruntled or ideological employee goes public with damning information.
According to a press release from Wikileaks: “the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.” This should be the focus of the debate although as with the Snowden and the Manning leaks the conversation will inevitably drift into how these leaks make us less safe.
The issue with arguments that “these leaks make us less safe” is that the claims are impossible to prove or disprove so long as the operations are secret. The CIA can neither detail their successes or admit to the capabilities’ failures because either would compromise effectiveness. This can also be seen as a very self-serving argument in which discussing the procedural legality of a tool limits its use therefore precluding the discussion- and the messy legislative process which defines democracy.
Still, and this is trodden territory here, there should be ample room for a debate about whether or not this capability is justified. It seems reasonable that these debates could happen internally even among those who have a top secret clearance. (Though I’d be curious to commission a study to see if those who have TS clearances have biases about what is and is not appropriate.) This could also protect the agency that when a leak is made the CIA can demonstrate internal review in its defense.
People are right to be upset about these capabilities because it comically pushes us into Orwell’s 1984 in which the telescreens watch citizens in their home. This at least has been the most publicized capability exposed by the leaks that the CIA code can infiltrate a technological “backdoor” in a Samsung smart TV and use it to listen in on conversations held nearby. But people are not right to be surprised because we knew that many of these surveillance capabilities already existed. Perhaps our outrage should be that, having discovered a backdoor, the CIA chose not to alert the manufacturers (Apple, Samsung and Microsoft all feature compromised products) to tighten their security in order to protect us the citizens and consumers but rather chose to exploit them for its own use.
Until these organizations (to start, the NSA, its contractors, and the CIA) can make a full disclosure that surveillance tools have been effective in exposing a threat to citizen security then we should be reluctant to accept surveillance. This surveillance should make us especially concerned given its director.
Another specific piece of information in the leaks states that as of October 2014 the CIA was looking in to infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks. We are perhaps just steps away from self-driving cars and the potential that these technologies could be exploited to commit an assassination should make us concerned. This is where the Wikileaks rhetoric sounds paranoid but if the capability exists and if the CIA does not have full control over its information then we could also assume that it also does not have control over all of the users with access to such hypothetical capabilities.