Commentary

Non-Hacking Media Legally Publish Leaked Palin Emails

As is well known by now, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin routinely used a personal e-mail account from Yahoo to conduct official business. If the Republican vice-presidential nominee did so in order to shield her messages from discovery, the move backfired spectacularly. Her Yahoo account was hacked into and, this week, her messages surfaced on Wikileaks, Gawker and other sites.

The e-mails themselves appear innocuous, though the screenshots of her in-box make it clear that she was using a Yahoo account for state matters. Still, the McCain camp is calling for blood.

"This is a shocking invasion of the Governor's privacy and a violation of law," McCain-Palin campaign manager Rick Davis reportedly said in a statement. "The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these e-mails will destroy them.

Davis might be right about the violation of privacy, and it's very possible that charges will be brought against whoever hacked into Palin's account, but there's little chance that any news organization is going to now destroy those e-mails.

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While newspapers or Web sites like Gawker aren't allowed to hack into people's emails, neither are they required to destroy material once it comes into their possession. Visiting Wikileaks and downloading documents on the site isn't a crime. And the law is very clear that as long as news organizations themselves broke no laws, they can publish whatever newsworthy information comes their way.

The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation has already weighed in on behalf of Gawker. "News media who played no part in the access to Gov. Palin's account and obtained the email documents lawfully, such as by pulling them off the web, are entitled under the First Amendment to republish any newsworthy email messages," wrote Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post about the case.

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