Needless leaks of proprietary documents not only contravene the law, but they also have unintended consequences for both transparency and democracy.
On the one hand, informants, whistle-blowers and anonymous sources serve a noble purpose in exposing crime, corruption and generating important dialogue. However, by publishing private information with no real purpose other than “it hasn't previously been disclosed,” leakers may in the end stifle an important element of American democracy — the safe exchange of confidential ideas and information.
Meanwhile, leakers show no signs of slowing.
Last year the group “MormonLeaks” published videos of LDS leadership in closed-door meetings engaging with experts on contemporary issues of importance.
A new round of leaks published Monday contain still-unverified documents detailing the living allowance received by LDS general authorities for housing and other family expenses.
Leaks typically aim to embarrass or expose targeted institutions. Yet, to date, the so-called Mormon leaks have largely had the opposite effect.
With regard to the most recent documents, scholars and observers seem to agree that the disclosures merely reaffirm the church’s reputation for frugality with its funds.
Professor Matthew Bowman, author of "The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith," went so far as to question whether the leaks were “newsworthy,” indicating that the real question is whether such private personal financial information “should be public at all."
He's right. During the 2016 presidential campaign leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee raised similar questions. They are now the subject of ongoing government investigations.
In recent years, leaks have sparked widespread debate over U.S. surveillance practices. They have also compromised classified information and, in the case of Edward Snowden, resulted in espionage charges. In 2012, the so-called "VatiLeaks" targeted the Holy See.
These and other leaks have prompted President-elect Donald Trump to adopt a “new” method of communication without email. “No computer is safe,” Trump says, advising those who want “something to really go without detection,” to “write it out and have it sent by courier.”
In 2013, leaks prompted President Obama to wage a “war on leaks” that a commissioned report from the Committee to Protect Journalists called one of the most “aggressive” efforts to control information “since the Nixon administration.”
So far, however, leaks have failed to embarrass the LDS Church.
WikiLeaks — the apparent inspiration for MormonLeaks — has stated that its mission is “to bring important news and information to the public so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.” If leakers succeed in providing “evidence of the truth,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may continue to benefit even as the social expectation of personal privacy suffers.