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Last week a group of hackers accessed the Yahoo e-mail account of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee. Some of the e-mails were posted on Gawker, and federal authorities opened a probe into the matter, including contacting the Associated Press for copies of the leaked e-mails. AP says it did not comply with the request.
Obviously, the hackers may be in some legal trouble. But what about Gawker and the media organizations that have posted those e-mails?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, citing the First Amendment, believes “it is unlikely that a court would require anyone in possession of these email messages to destroy them.”
However, it might not be that simple.
As we’ve seen in numerous cases involving judicial investigation into criminal activity, there could eventually be some subpoena fallout from this episode — and media organizations rarely like to cooperate with the Feds. Plus, who knows what sort of civil lawsuits may be lurking? Palin is a public figure and her capacity for running the country is a newsworthy question that might impede an invasion of privacy lawsuit, but with photos posted of her young children and e-mails uploaded from private citizens, the range of potential litigants is long.
Gawker has a history of testing the liabililty waters by keeping up posts after cease-and-desist letters start flying (remember the Tom Cruise Scientology videos?). The site currently says it will be keeping the hacked goods up: “It’s newsworthy and we will not be taking it down!”
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