The criminally large difference between leaks to the media and hacking

There is a difference between hacking and leaks.

For example, Julian Assange is unlikely to face charges under American espionage laws because the FBI would have too pop down and arrest everybody at the New York Times and Washington Post  and the U.S. offices of the Guardian and more than a few famous book authors.

U.S. media organizations could be prosecuted for printing leaked classified information under US espionage legislation, but that prospect is unlikely because of official aversion to running afoul of the First Amendment.

If the government were to prosecute the  recipient of classified information – as opposed to the individual who leaked it from within the government such as Bradley Manning – mainstream media would fear that they could face prosecution for reporting information they routinely receive from government sources. There is no way to prosecute Assange for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists.

Assigned is in criminal law trouble only if he assisted Bradley Manning to leak the information as distinct from simply receive it from him. An example might be advising Manning on how to  get around computer security at his Defence Department workplace.

Hacking involves breaking into someone else’s place in the full knowledge that this is prohibited under computer crimes laws. Heavy penalties apply in the same way as physically braking in and stealing the documents. There is no moral or legal distinction.

The outrage against the phone hacking scandal in the UK was based upon breaches of computer crime law and corruption of public officials through bribes. The moral outrage in that scandal was topped up by the glee which some papers had at the fall from grace of their commercial and ideological rivals.

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