Gawker reports that hackers have accessed two of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s personal email accounts and posted some of the contents online. Palin’s personal emails have become a matter of interest in recent weeks due to allegations that she and her staff used private accounts to conduct official government business, which would be a violation of Alaska’s open government laws. From Wikileaks, where the information is posted:
The internet activist group ‘anonymous’, famed for its exposure of unethical behavior by the Scientology cult, has now gone after the Alaskan govenor and republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
At around midnight last night some members affiliated with the group gained access to governor Palin’s email account “firstname.lastname@example.org” and handed over the contents to the government sunshine site Wikileaks.org.
Governor Palin has come under media criticism in the past week for using private email accounts to avoid Alaskan freedom of information laws. The contents of the mailbox show this to be true and also hold clues of at least one other Yahoo based mail account held by Palin, “email@example.com“.
Both email accounts were reportedly deleted. McCain campaign manager Rick Davis released the following statement on the matter:
“This is a shocking invasion of the Governor’s privacy and a violation of law. The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them. We will have no further comment.”
This raises an interesting question. Clearly, the hackers actions are illegal, but the Internet is still a legal “Wild West” in many respects. If evidence of illegal activity were turned up in this manner — and I’m not insinuating that it will be — would it admissible in a court of law? I spoke with Kurt Opsahl, a privacy and free speech attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to find out. Here’s what he said:
“This may give investigators a more focused set of questions to ask to investigate that situation. If they are going to prove that [Palin] had violated some records law, it would seem that a conscientious investigator would try to get direct evidence of this in testimony by asking appropriate questions or by obtaining copies directly…It’s hard to imagine a circumstance where the best evidence available would be a screenshot posted on a third-party Website.
“Where this stuff might become useful is if there was a contradiction. If Gov. Palin and her defense lawyers said that “X” was true, and the emails said that “X” was not true, that might be a basis to call into question a statement.”
So investigators probably would not directly use such evidence, but could theoretically use it to point them in the right direction. However, if Palin’s accounts have been deleted — and Yahoo clears deleted emails within months — the hackers may have made such questions academic rather than casting more light on the situation.
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