Sep 20 2008
Bill O’Reilly doesn’t understand hackers. Nor does he understand the law. In retaliation for comments made on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly’s web site was hacked and information about some of the people who use his site were posted to Wikileaks, along with screen shots of the administrative interface of his site.
On air, Bill O’Reilly had called for the heads of the people responsible for hacking Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account. He’d gone on to claim that the people at Wikileaks who posted the screenshots of Palin’s email were dispicable and should be arrested. The hack was in direct retaliation for these comments.
What O’Reilly doesn’t understand is that Wikileaks did absolutely nothing illegal under our federal laws. In May of 2001, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Bartnicki vs. Vopper that clearly states that even if information is gained using illegal means, publishing, broadcasting or otherwise making available the information is legal. The basic thought behind this decision was that the person or organization publishing the data did nothing wrong and had every right to publish. The person who got the information in the first place is still 100% liable, but publishing the information isn’t a crime.
As a reporter, I’m surprised O’Reilly wasn’t aware of this interpretation of the law. It’s there to protect reporters and to enable them (and bloggers too) to report on incidents were the original information might be obtained illegally. Say, maybe tapes that get stolen and prove Presidential wrong doing, ala Watergate. I hope Bill gets his site secured soon. And I hope he learned a little from the experience.