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Is it legal for a random citizen to read classified documents that were publicly published by actors such as Wikileaks ?

Or should a citizen, once he knows that the document is classified, legally have to immediately stop reading, close the browser tab if the reading is done in a browser, etc ?

I'm asking this from the standpoint of a Belgian citizen. The question applies to :

  • can I legally read such documents that belong to my own country ?
  • can I legally read such documents that belong to the U.S.A ("allied nation") ?
  • can I legally read such documents that belong to North Korea ("hostile nation", probably less agreements between our nations)
  • bonus : can a U.S.A citizen legally read such documents that belong to the U.S.A government ?
  • bonus : can a U.S.A citizen legally read such documents that belong to an allied nation, such as Belgium ?

Thanks alot ! :)

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Under U.S. law it is legal to read and to publish leaked classified information from the U.S. (or a fortiori classified information from a foreign government). See New York Times v. United States, 403 US 713 (1971). (Some CIA officials would disagree but acknowledge that no journalist has ever been convicted of a crime for doing this that has been upheld by the courts).

Only the leaking party is exposed to criminal or civil liability. One of the U.S. statutes imposing criminal liability is 18 U.S.C. § 798 (others are 18 U.S.C. § 793 and 50 USC § 421 (the Intelligence Identities Protection Act)), which applies to secrets of both the U.S. and those of foreign governments that are detrimental to the U.S. if released.See also Wikipedia. As an aside, under U.S. law, a person with a duty to preserve classified information as classified has a duty to do so even if the information is already widely available in the new media (in part, on the theory that releasing the information would give credibility to the information which otherwise might only have an anonymous source).

I do not know what would be legal under Belgian law. I suspect that it would be less protective of journalists, because the U.S. tends to be an extreme outlier with respect to freedom of the press.

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