by Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm, The Intercept:
THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE (DNC) filed a lawsuit this afternoon in a Manhattan federal court against the Russian Government, the Trump campaign and various individuals it alleges participated in the plot to hack its email servers and disseminate the contents as part of the 2016 election. The DNC also sued WikiLeaks for its role in publishing the hacked materials, though it does not allege that WikiLeaks participated in the hacking or even knew in advance about it; its sole role, according to the DNC’s lawsuit, was publishing the hacked emails.
The DNC’s suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit – that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it “willfully and intentionally disclosed” the DNC’s communications (paragraph 183) – would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of “economic espionage” (paragraph 170):
It is extremely common for media outlets to publish or report on materials that are stolen, hacked, or otherwise obtained in violation of the law. In October, 2016 – one month before the election – someone mailed a copy of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times, which published parts of it even though it is illegal to disclose someone’s tax returns without the taxpayer’s permission; in March, 2017, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did the same thing with Trump’s 2005 tax returns.
In April, 2016, the Washington Post obtained and published a confidential internal memo from the Trump campaign. Media outlets constantly publish private companies’ internal documents. Just three weeks ago, BuzzFeed obtained and published a secret Facebook memo outlining the company’s internal business strategies, the contents of which were covered by most major media outlets.
Some of the most important stories in contemporary journalism have come from media outlets obtaining and publishing materials that were taken without authorization or even in violation of the law. Both the New York Times and Washington Post published thousands of pages from the top secret Pentagon Papers after Daniel Ellsberg took them without authorization from the Pentagon – and they won the right to publish them in the U.S. Supreme Court.