The proliferation of data leaks distributed by organizations such as Anonymous and Wikileaks raises difficult questions about how social researchers relate to government and corporate records. We make creative use of publicly available records and datasets every day, but what are the benefits and risks of using leaked (or hacked) data?
Wikileaks’ diplomatic cable leaks and Anonymous’ release of NATO documents provide rare insights into backstage communications of government officials. If treated as data for research, these documents could provide substantial insight into the interactions between bureaucracies, political relationships between states, and contemporary rhetoric of the military, among many other subjects. On the other hand, it may be impossible to verify the authenticity of a document. Among other unforeseen risks to individuals and collective actors named in leaked documents, there is no way to know what the population of documents from which an individual source comes looks like.
These questions will certainly become more prominent and pressing in the years to come as the pace and volume of leaked data continues to accelerate. We’re interested to hear what you think.