News about the Sony Pictures hack is everywhere. After the hacker group Guardians of Peace began posting the stolen information online, journalists, news organizations and lots of other people began downloading the documents to get a better look at them. It seems like everyone is doing it. But could looking at those documents actually get you in legal trouble?
Security expert Dan Tentler has downloaded the documents and provided professional comments to media outlets that are covering the situation. Then, the FBI showed up on his doorstep. Tentler was out of town but his wife says the agents mentioned something about illegal downloads.
Just to warn other security folk working on the Sony leaks - the FBI just visited my home. I wasn't there, so I'm not sure what they wanted.
— Dan Tentler (@Viss) December 6, 2014
We haven't gotten the whole story about what the FBI wanted, but you can bet Sony and the government are keeping an eye on who's downloading those docs.
Most security and law experts don't think that downloading the documents will lead to jail time. That's because the journalists and regular folks who are taking a look didn't actually steal them. Guardians of Peace stole them and then posted them in a public place online.
Adjunct media professor at Columbia University and former Wall Street Journal general counsel Stuart Karle doesn't think you would get in trouble just for having the documents on your computer. However, not everyone agrees.
“There’s no crime of ‘illegal downloading’ per se,” said Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But he said there could be criminal liability for possessing stolen documents. “It certainly is a crime under state law to receive stolen property.”
You could also be found guilty of a crime if you used the stolen documents to commit other criminal activity like using the passwords or personal information in the stolen info to break into Sony's network or commit identity theft.
Journalists who've accessed the documents to report on them should also be in the clear. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Bartnicki v. Vopper that journalists have a First Amendment right to report on "illegally obtained documents" as long as the journalist didn't actually break the law to get them.
“There’s no liability for a journalist who has been given illegally obtained information,” former federal prosecutor Orin Kerr said.
Sony, for its part, isn't taking the hack lying down - it's actually fighting back. Click here to read more about Sony's reaction.