Hey Russians, You’ve Been Doxxed!

One of World War II’s most successful female spies, Virginia Hall, was known only as “the Lady with the Limp” by her Nazi pursuers. Her anonymity permitted her to operate successfully with the Resistance in Europe for years. When the Germans started to close in, her cover protected her long enough to escape across the Pyrenees. 

The derring-do of military and intelligence operatives have always relied on anonymity for success and survival. So, what does this suggest for the 120,000 Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine whose personal data was leaked last week? What does it mean for the Russian war effort? 

Firstly, none of these soldiers will be able to act anonymously anymore. The information revealed about some soldiers can establish linkages to other, previously unidentified soldiers and Russian sympathizers. Understanding their real and virtual world social networks will identify them all as enemies of Ukraine. Ukrainian sympathizers will be able to track, target, and harass soldiers in and out of uniform. Sophisticated doxxing campaigns may emerge that affect the Russian military in Ukraine and their families back home. 

Second, the tactical and strategic advantages of anonymous military actors have vanished. The Ukrainian military could combine the leaked information with other social media data to track, target, and take out Russian troops. The winning of hearts and minds in the streets of Kyiv will be much harder once every known Russian asset is fingered and followed.  

Third, this could affect the morale of the Russian troops. Private Pavlov may have thought his country had his back. Now he’s discovered that his homeland has allowed the enemy to paint a target on his torso. 

The bottom line for the Russian war effort is that seizure of a neighboring state in the 21st century is not the cakewalk that taking Poland was for Hitler in the 20th. This well-timed leak helped ratchet up a resistance that might have left the Third Reich a mere footnote in history. The rules of the game have changed because of technology. 

Technological progress requires everyone to update their rules and operating procedures. The changes wrought by cyber innovation come fast and furious. The United States was among the first to pass laws protecting citizens’ privacy from the intrusions of computers. American law protects privacy from intrusion by the government and a handful of other actors, like healthcare providers and credit reporting agencies. But U.S. jurisprudence still leaves the door wide open for privacy pirates—companies like Meta, Amazon, and Google—to exploit consumers’ transactional data. 

Europe’s 2016 General Privacy Regulation (GDPR) has much sharper teeth. The GDPR protects “the processing of personal data and free movement of such data” for all Europeans. It explicitly limits the power of any public or private entity to use such data to compromise human rights. 

This difference in privacy views is causing a cognitive dissonance among free countries. Both Europeans and Americans view human rights as an essential element of democracy and free-market economics. Bloody episodes from history taught them that standing up for individual rights helped preserve the power of the people and limit that of aggressors and oppressors. 

So far, the United States has failed to update its privacy laws. Existing laws do nothing to protect consumers’ private information from exploitation by the privacy pirates. America needs to modernize its privacy laws and find ways to ease the privacy dissonance with its allies. America could do no greater service to the future of democracy than to lead the harmonization of privacy practices among democratic nations. 

We of the Western world rejoice that Ukrainian freedom fighters have the private information of their military opponents. It may very well permit the scrappy Ukrainian underdog to trounce the totalitarian tyrant. 

Private Pavlov, President Putin has been cavalier with your safety. He is just an old-fashioned KGB bully seeking to restore Russia to a former glory that never existed in Soviet times. While blitzkriegs may have worked for Hitler, Putin’s pugilism in Ukraine has failed. The rules of the game have changed under cyber. The internet has empowered the Ukrainian “ankle-biters” to put up a substantive resistance to the Russian “superpower.” Private Pavlov, throw down your weapons and allow the Ukrainian people to recover their freedom and autonomy. 

President Putin, how does it feel to have someone besides the Russian state exploit the personal details of your citizens’ lives? You underestimated the power and ingenuity of freedom-loving people. They are using this information to mobilize across cyberspace and resist you in physical space. Your mistake may cost you the war. 

Of course, exploitation of private information can also threaten democracies. Hitler’s demented disregard for human rights threatened democracy worldwide. The Holocaust still haunts the European psyche today. It is no accident that the words of the U.N.’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights echo in the 2016 GDPR. 

The U.S. Constitution guarantees certain individual rights that grant its citizens superpowers over the government. These superpowers limit the power of government and protect democracy. Anything that threatens these superpowers threatens American democracy. 

The privacy pirates have been stealing our superpowers. They perform nonconsensual acts on our private information, using technology to collect, combine, transform, analyze, synthesize, share, and sell it. Are we going to fritter away the rights we fought for in a war of independence? Where is our bill of rights for cyberspace? 

History teaches that privacy and democracy are more resilient together than alone. Unified and aligned, privacy and democracy wield a power capable of withstanding the most vicious barbarians. Democratic countries would do well to harmonize their views on privacy practices in physical and virtual spaces to defeat the tyrants. The power of the people, the safety of nations, and the future of democracy all depend on it.

 

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