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We live in the golden age of leaks. That’s not to say that leaks didn’t happen before. But the move to digital data and the availability of high-speed Internet connections has made the exfiltration of data on a massive scale much easier. Where in 1971 Daniel Ellsberg had to photocopy 7,000 pages of what became known as the Pentagon Papers before he could leak them to the New York Times, Chelsea Manning was able to give 750,000 military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks in 2010 by copying them onto writable CDs. Later, Edward Snowden is believed to have gathered and removed around 1.7 million intelligence files – something that would have been impossible had it been analog data. All those leaks were made by whistleblowers who wanted the public to know about US government activities. But alongside the actions of Manning and Snowden there have been an increasing number of thefts of personal data on a massive scale.
For example, in 2014, the email addresses, encrypted passwords, birth dates, mailing addresses and other information for 145 million eBay users were stolen. In 2016, Yahoo admitted serious security breaches had occurred twice: the first saw half a billion accounts compromised, while the second involved one billion Yahoo users. The same year, details leaked from 400 million accounts on AdultFriendFinder, which calls itself the “world’s largest sex and swinger community” site.
More recently, a leak from Equifax took place. Although “only” 145 million users were affected, it was arguably much more serious than the larger leaks of personal data mentioned above. That’s because the information that was lost – full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and some driver license numbers