"Hacker Croll" apparently gained access to Twitter documents by hacking into an employee's personal account and then downloading papers that had been stored in Google Docs. Hacker Croll then sent 310 formerly confidential documents to TechCrunch, which is now publishing some of them.
TechCrunch's decision to publish is proving controversial, but the move isn't surprising. It also appears to be lawful. News organizations have a well-established right to publish any information that they come upon lawfully, regardless of whether the person who gave them the information was entitled to do so. In other words, if someone steals documents and then decides on his own to hand them to a publisher, that publisher is free to print or post them.
That's why news organizations were free to publish former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's emails last year, after a hacker got into her account and distributed the messages.
Journalists and others can debate whether distributing this type of material is ethical, but there's no question that many reputable news outlets routinely publish material that company executives didn't intend for outsiders to see.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone blogs that the documents don't contain anything all that juicy. "We have a culture of sharing and communication within Twitter and these stolen documents represent a fraction of what we produce on a regular basis," he writes. "Obviously, these docs are not polished or ready for prime time and they're certainly not revealing some big, secret plan for taking over the world."
Meanwhile, TechCrunch has already posted one document -- a pitch to Twitter from "Through the Eyes Production" for a new reality TV show, "Final Tweet."
It's not clear whether Twitter liked this pitch, but TechCrunch's Michael Arrington would have passed: "Frankly, it looks like a big loser. I hope and assume Twitter turned this down, and fast," he writes.