Sunday, October 16, 2011

Was it Legal to Leak the Occupy Wall Street Emails?

Legal note: the opinions I express are my own, and should not be
regarded as official positions of CCSF or any of my other employers.

I was not sure what legal risks people run leaking emails, as in the Occupy Wall Street case, so I sent this inquiry to "a law talking guy I know", as he wishes to be identified. I was surprised at the answer! Apparently the email leaking was not illegal!

Here was my question:


I would appreciate any advice you can give me about this:

Someone (the first person) apparently joined a Google Group for the
"Occupy Wall Street" protest planning, and archived all the emails
from it.  That person dumped them in a single PST file on MediaShare.

Now a second person wishes to convert the PST file, which is
inconvenient to read, into a handy indexed, searchable database
accessible on the Internet, so everyone can read it.

The file contains names, email addresses, and other information from
people who posted messages to this Google Group.

What legal risks does the second person run by doing this?  Does it
matter if the second person is in contact with the first person?
Would it help if the email addresses were redacted, but not the names?


Here is the answer:


I heard something about this.

I think this all depends on what Person 1 did to obtain the emails. If
P1 got their email address on the group list by asking, there's really
nothing to prevent them from disclosure other than some duty not to
disclose (NDA or attorney client privilege come to mind).

Now, if P1 got access by more nefarious means such as breaking into
another user's account, compromising the owner account (to add his email
address without the authorization of a legitimate group owner), we have
more to discuss.

If access to the email is unlawful, it is also unlawful to disclose the
contents of that email to people other than the intended recipients- see
18 USC 2701(a).

Now, for P2's liability. If P1 & P2 are working in conjunction and P1's
access is unlawful, P2 could be liable for P1's actions. This would
require more than common political goals- P1 & P2 would know what the
other is/plans on doing with the information.

I can't think of any law requiring redactions of names or email
addresses in a public disclosure of the email threads. Everybody who
participated took the risk that another recipient would forward email to
an outside party.

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