The news on Wednesday was clotted with "stories" derived from emails purportedly written by former Secretary of State and General Colin Powell. Powell calling Trump a disgrace, complaining of Clinton campaign operatives trying to make him the fall guy, etc. Very juicy.
There's one big problem, though. These were not emails that Powell released to the world. They were not released by the State Department or the FBI. They weren't public documents of any kind.
They were stolen.
Once upon a time, for a couple of centuries actually, if you opened a letter that had been sent through the U.S. Mail, let alone published its contents, you would be guilty of a federal crime. You would be investigated and prosecuted. When the Post Office was a federal department--with its own Cabinet Secretary--the mail was taken very, very seriously.
I don't know what laws apply to cybercrime. But the fact that private correspondence has been published without the knowledge or permission of its author must be illegal.
That doesn't seem to bother anybody, especially those writing about it. They barely mention that they obtained this information in a different way than, say most of the Clinton emails, which were made public, partly because they were written by a public official. Lines were crossed there as well, and we can expect them to be crossed again, as emails of purely personal content were and will be released, in violation of privacy, and obtained by theft.
The stories might say these emails were "hacked." "Hacked" can mean different things. In this case they were stolen, and that should be the word used to describe them. Stolen property.
Aren't people who publish them also engaged in a crime? Good question. If not, why not? Another good question. I believe there are criminal sanctions for receiving stolen goods, especially knowing they were stolen.
And we all know these were stolen.
Nor are these official records of public agencies or public officials that have unreasonably been kept secret. Colin Powell is no longer a public official. He's a private citizen. His constitutional rights have been violated. Are being violated.
Here's another problem. What assurances do we have that the emails that have been released haven't been altered? That they aren't bogus? Do the newspapers and media outlets that publish them, and write about them, know? Have they checked? How can they check? Do they even know? Do they care?
These emails are published as reflecting the words of Colin Powell. But those who publish them have scant if any first hand knowledge that they are genuine.
So maybe after they are published, either the sender or receiver will check their copies and discover that words, sentences, entire emails have been altered or just plain faked. That's another news story.
Unless it's the weekend before the election. Somebody (likely a Russian agency) steals and alters emails, deliver them to their favorite dupes who gleefully deliver them to a favorite friendly newspaper or site, and moments after they are first published, they are everywhere.
If they are fake, there will be no time to check. And because our news media seems entirely gullible right now, it's likely they'll be just as gullible then. They will publish them without any idea of whether they are faked or not. Although they will know that they are stolen.
If stealing and dumping the Powell emails was a dry run for this, it has to be judged a howling success. Just too juicy to resist.
So I'd say that the chances that such an email dump right before the election--with sensational if faked content--just went way up.
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