Theft, Leaks and Whistle-blowing
A Personal View

The following sources have been used: This webpage will be divided up as follows:

Return to the top of this page


Definitions

Return to the top of this page


Theft and Stealing

Anyone who steals an item or document (whether classified or not) is a thief and as such is a candidate for arrest, charging, court appearance and subsequently if found guilty, some form of sentence by the court with the charge and conviction being recorded against that person thus giving them a criminal record that would follow them for some if not all of the rest of their life. In most countries, a criminal conviction can lead to the individual not being allowed to enter that country either as a tourist or to work (ref: TV programs "Border Patrol", "Customs", etc). There may or may not be a "statute of limitations" on such a ban depending on the nature of the offence, the term of imprisonment (if any), and how long the person has been out of gaol for at the time of their travels.

I will explain through this page why I believe that the "leaking" of classified documents is theft and as such, while some say that no crime has been committed by leaking a classified document, a crime can be demonstrated to have been committed. It all comes down to terminology and the creation of laws that put segments of our society (eg journalists, etc) "above the law".

Return to the top of this page


Leaking

As indicated in the above definitions, if the websites indicated have been inspected, leaking is the process of passing on to another person a classified document that has been stolen from the lawful owner either as the original document (unlikely), a photocopy of the document, or a copy of the document in any one of the various digital formats available either by direct access to a computer within an organisation or by hacking into the desired computer system from outside the organisation and downloading the document or documents, for unlawful purposes.

Return to the top of this page


Whistle-blowing

Again, as indicated in the definitions, unlike leaking, a whistle-blower is not making public classified documents but rather after attempting to bring some observations or personal experiences of bullying, or political or corporate, etc, corruption, misbehaviour or misconduct to the attention of their relevant supervisor and/or manager, etc, and not receiving or observing any tangible results, has made the brave decision to "go public" and subsequently bring about some form of legal action against the parties concerned.

Whistle-blowers should have the full protection of the law available to them. This may require the provision of a suitably trained advocate to be present at job interviews to ensure that the process isn't biassed and if appropiate, to have access to the subsequent selection process deliberations, not just a copy of the final interview report, to ensure that the deliberations of the selection panel, in making their final decision, is not biassed against the individual but is fairly based on the merits of the applicants and nothing else.

A whistle-blower should not have to hide behind the journalistic term "an unnamed source" but should be free to be named if they believe it may assist their cause and with the full protection of the law, as already suggested above.

Return to the top of this page


Copyright

At a trivial level, any person in possession of "stolen" documents or documents procured via "illegal" means and who makes the contents of those documents public either via publication in the press or other mode, might also be guilty of a breach of Copyright as all documents that might be considered in the class of documents that may be prone to being "stolen for illegal purposes" would also be copyrighted material.

Australian Copyright Law, by not requiring copyright material to be physically registered, implies that regardless of who produced a document, even the daily or weekly shopping list, it is a copyright document and as such is protected by the (Australian) Copyright Act.

Return to the top of this page


Conclusions

With all of the controversary currently taking place over the contents of the "WikiLeaks" website, its foudner and those who both work for, contract to, or use their "product", I hold the personal view that anyone who provides this organisation with stolen classified documents has committed a crime (ie theft) and that WikiLeaks and the organisations who use these documents either directly or via WikiLeaks, may be guilty of "knowingly being in receipt of stolen property" which I understand is, in some jurisdictions at least (eg Australia, as I understand it), may also be a criminal offence.

As such, I can identify at least three (3) laws under which someone might be charged in relation to leaked documents:

So to all those who believe that the founder of WikiLeaks "has committed no crime", I don't think they are casting their nets far enough in terms of the legal tools that are already available and I support 100% the actions of the US Government's Justice and State Departments in their search for suitable charges which can be used to bring the founder of WikiLeaks, and others, to justice.

Return to the top of this page


This page 2010, Paul Myers
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Australia License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://pmyers.pcug.org.au/Copyright_Licence.htm