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The Ashley Madison hack – data of thousands of users of the site that urges “Life is Short: Have an Affair” dumped on the “dark web” on Tuesday 18th August – is something that I have found very troubling.

My initial response was something along the lines of this:

It’s hard to feel sorry for a bunch of sleazy, cheating scumbags who’ve fed money into a business that encourages and enables betrayal and infidelity.*

But that’s not really the point.

The point isn’t that they’ve done nothing wrong. The point is that despite the fact that they have done something wrong, they still have a right to privacy.

When nude photos of celebrities were hacked, I defended their right to privacy. I liked them. I supported their right to take private, naked photographs of themselves and share them with whoever they chose to. I don’t like the creeps who use Ashley Madison. I don’t support their right to cheat on their partners. I still support their right to privacy.

Because this is how it works; if we condone this because the people being exposed are seedy and unpleasant, then we condone vigilante privacy-breach as punishment in general, and I don’t think that’s right.

Supporting people’s right to privacy and their freedom to do what they like privately is easy when you agree with what they’re doing. It’s harder when you don’t. It’s harder, but I believe it’s still necessary. Am I disgusted with Ashley Madison’s customer base? Yes. Do I believe they got what they deserved? Maybe, insofar as liars deserve to be revealed. Do I believe that it was right? Certainly not.

It’s easy to cheer on the hackers when they’re attacking the unpopular, but the truth is online we’re all vulernerable. Hacking isn’t really the next frontier of vigilante justice, it’s just vandalism, and as much as I’d love to cheer the demise of Ashley Madison, this hack is no good thing at all.

*I know that I have blogged before about compulsory monogamy in romance novels, but polyamory is not the same as infidelity. I am also aware that my novels deal with extra-marital love-affairs, but these are a. within legendary material, b. in a medieval past, c. not a how-to guide for any marriage.