Hackers Release Olympic Athlete Information

"Fancy Bear" hacking group releases new round of olympic athlete medical information.
October 25, 2016

In a world of constant information flow, where ease of access and convenience are at the forefront of technological innovation, it’s no wonder that privacy has become such a critical issue.

As the Summer Olympics came to a close, the medical information of 25 Olympic athletes, 10 from the U.S., and others from Britain and Germany to name a few, was released by a cyber-criminal group known as “Fancy Bear.” [1]

This group targeted the athletes for the self-proclaimed purpose of “fair play and clean sport,” and sees their work as helping to keep sports drug-free. [2] In light of the Team Russia doping scandal, this released information, including that of gymnast Simone Biles and Serena and Venus Williams, [3] points to a larger potential issue, one that concerns personal privacy and anonymity. The right to privacy, especially concerning matters such as health, has come to be an expected part of society. When this right is violated, it creates tension amongst athletes who are submitting to anti-doping protocols and testing. [4]

In accordance with these protocols, athletes let the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and others know where they are at all times, so that should testing be needed, it can be done in a timely manner. Not all tests come back negative. Of the roughly 1 percent positive tests, 10 percent of these are of athletes that have therapeutic use exemptions (TUE), essentially a doctor’s note. This permission clears an athlete to use a substance for a medically necessary reason. [5]

The information released about Simone Biles included a positive test for a banned substance—one she has a doctor’s permission to use, and has been using for years. She responded to the breach on Twitter, clearing the air as to why she tested positive, by stating that she has ADHD, and has been taking medicine for it since she was a child. [6] It is this type of sensitive information that athletes may want kept private—information that should remain private, as it does nothing to compromise the integrity of sport.

This response points to a reason many athletes may have an issue with the release of their records. While many are public figures, athletes already give up personal anonymity in consenting to give their location to testing agencies. They already support clean sport. This hack represents a divergence from personal choice, and breaches the line between what the public is entitled to know, and what should be taken in good faith as fair and accurate.

There has to be a balance between personal freedom and accountability. Without it, there would be a constant questioning of personal integrity, and of the validity of each athlete’s place in a competition.

In addition, it is not just the release of the information in these particular cases, but the potential ramifications down the line. This sends a message to athletes that they may need to be more cautious in complying with testing efforts in the future, if they do not want their information released. [7] It makes WADA’s job harder, and puts them in a potentially confrontational position, as a force that is prying into people’s personal lives, instead of simply upholding the rules. This breach raises the question of what being involved in sport potentially exposes you to, and whether or not an athlete’s reputation will be questioned for simply getting the medical treatment they need. [8]


[1] Jethro Mullen and Ivana Kottasova, Russian Hackers Release Secret Data of 25 More Olympic Athletes, CNN (Sept. 15, 2016, 6:10 AM), http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/15/technology/wada-olympic-athletes-russian-hackers/.

[2] Id.

[3] Kelly McEvers, Hackers Release Medical Records of U.S. Olympic Athletes, NPR (Sept. 14, 2016, 4:28 PM), http://www.npr.org/2016/09/14/493965822/hackers-release-medical-records-of-u-s-olympic-athletes.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] @Simone_Biles, Hackers Leak US Olympic Athletes’ Private Medical Information, BBC (Sept. 14, 2016), http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/37358972.

[7] See McEvers, NPR.

[8] Rebecca Ruiz, Simone Biles and Williams Sisters Latest Target of Russian Hackers, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/sports/simone-biles-serena-venus-williams-russian-hackers-doping.html?_r=0.