In 2016, CNN reporter Chris Cuomo, said about Hillary Clinton's hacked emails:

Also interesting is remember...it's illegal to possess the stolen documents. It's different for the media. So everything you learn about this, you're learning from us...let's take a look at what is in there.

That is, I could not download and read the emails from Wikileaks, but I could listen to Cuomo as he download and read them to me.

  1. Is it legal for citizens to possess hacked emails?

  2. Is it legal for CNN to possess hacked emails?

3 Answers 3


Chris Cuomo is wrong: the media are not different. For details, see this column by First Amendment specialist Eugene Volokh.

My original answer was also wrong. Well, not wrong, but irrelevant. My answer was irrelevant because the hacked emails Cuomo was talking about do not involve national security. By focusing on the national security angle, I answered a question nobody asked.

To make matters worse, in his comment on IKnowNothing's answer, A.fm. politely pointed out my mistake fourth months before I made it.


Just a guy's answer is good. Sadly I blew my reputation points on fast questions and loose legal reasoning and can't comment on it so I'll just add some additional info here.

It is still open as to whether it's different for the Media™. An argument can be made that the Constitution does not protect classes of people, but rights to all. In which case anyone who takes classified material for the purpose of disseminating it to the public has the same protection as a corporate media conglomerate.

If Assange ever goes on trial there will probably be a debate over whether Wikileaks qualifies as press. There is also the issue of independent journalists being beaten up by police while identified corporate media personalities are spared. That has not been litigated either as far as I know. Seems almost like a violation of equal protection to be honest, though. If someone is spending his time engaged in journalistic activities but is not afforded the same rights as a CNN employee just due to his lack of success.

  • 1
    Nope! My answer is irrelevant. See the column by Eugene Volokh I cite in my new answer.
    – Just a guy
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 6:05

The Espionage Act of 1917 makes it a crime to hurt the US by collecting or communicating information that would harm the national defense. Nobody, other than government employees have been successfully prosecuted for disseminating unlawfully leaked classified information. Until the supreme court rules we cannot know.

Speculation: Freedom of press could trump the statute and protect Cuomo, but it would not protect an ordinary citizen. Maybe if they talked about it on their YouTube channel?

  • So it could be illegal to obtain the secret information, unless you published the secret information widely....interesting. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 16:12
  • 1
    This situation does not implicate the Espionage Act. Podesta was chair of Hillary's campaign and not a government official at the time these emails were stolen, so any criminal liability would be theft, not espionage.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 19:02
  • There is nothing in the Act stating the information must be obtained directly from a government official. In any case, theft can only apply when you intent to permanently deprive someone of property. Nobody was deprived of property. Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 14:20
  • 1
    As the answers states, the issue in the New York Times case was an injunction against publication. The Cuomo quote and the question are about possession of the documents. The SCOTUS case did not directly address this. Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 2:42
  • @GeorgeWhite It's even worse! Cuomo was talking about the Hillary emails that didn't involve national security, so my answer was not really relevant. I have erased it.
    – Just a guy
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 5:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .