DOJ Guidelines: Inappropriate To Prosecute Leaking Gov't Information As 'Theft Of Gov't Property'

from the umm... dept

Well, this is interesting. Last week, of course, it was revealed that the DOJ has charged Ed Snowden for various crimes, including "theft of government property." In fact, Rep. Mike Rogers, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, seems to think this is the key charge, and argues (ridiculously) that the documents "belong to the people of the US" and that Snowden somehow "stole" them by giving the documents to those very same "people of the US."

However, as Declan McCullagh points out, the DOJ's own manual very clearly says that it is "inappropriate" to charge people who take government documents and information with theft of government property, in part because that might lead to unfair prosecution of whistleblowers:
Section 641 of Title 18 prohibits theft or receipt of stolen government information as well as theft of the documents, computer discs, etc., that contain the information. United States v. Fowler, 932 F.2d 306, 309-10 (4th Cir. 1991); United States v. Girard, 601 F.2d 69, 70-71 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 871 (1979); United States v. DiGilio 538 F.2d 972, 977-78 (3rd Cir. 1976), cert. denied sub nom. Lupo v. United States, 429 U.S. 1038 (1977). But see United States v. Tobias, 836 F.2d 449, 451 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 991 (1988). Nevertheless, for the reasons set forth below, the Criminal Division believes that it is inappropriate to bring a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 641 when: (1) the subject of the theft is intangible property, i.e., government information owned by, or under the care, custody, or control of the United States; (2) the defendant obtained or used the property primarily for the purpose of disseminating it to the public; and (3) the property was not obtained as a result of wiretapping, (18 U.S.C. § 2511) interception of correspondence (18 U.S.C. §§ 1702, 1708), criminal entry, or criminal or civil trespass.

There are two reasons for the policy. First, it protects "whistle-blowers." Thus, under this policy, a government employee who, for the primary purpose of public exposure of the material, reveals a government document to which he or she gained access lawfully or by non-trespassory means would not be subject to criminal prosecution for the theft. Second, the policy is designed to protect members of the press from the threat of being prosecuted for theft or receipt of stolen property when, motivated primarily by the interest in public dissemination thereof, they publish information owned by or under the custody of the government after they obtained such information by other than trespassory means.
And yet, the "theft of government property" seems to be central to the government's charges against Snowden, suggesting that, yet again, the administration is really grasping at straws in trying to charge Snowden with anything it can dig up for daring to blow the whistle on the surveillance program.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 24th, 2013 @ 12:54pm

    They are doing this because most of the data talked about in what he has violated #3.

     

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  2.  
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    The Real Michael, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 12:55pm

    Mike, they disregard our Constitutional rights, so what makes you think they'd follow their own guidelines?

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 12:58pm

    Since when does the DOJ follow their own guidelines with prosecuting someone.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 12:59pm

    Carmen Ortiz?

    Was Ms. Ortiz involved in brainstorming charges? Or is throwing the book (including the parts that are labeled 'Don't throw me') standard practice for everyone at the DOJ?

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 1:01pm

    This Regulation Sounds Like a good Basis for "Whistle Blower Protection Laws", Plain Language, Short, & to the point. I'm sure any attempt at law-making using this language would be effectively Blocked.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 1:15pm

    Joint Fed and NSA olympics

    include events like:
    1) Book Throwing (scored on distance and number of bruises induced)
    2) Nationality guessing (the more people identified as foreign the better)
    3) Sneaking past as many blindfolded, arm-tied FISA judges as possible.
    4) Biggest lie contests
    5) Blackmailing as many officials as possible

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 1:28pm

    edWARd sNOWden

    slaughter or laughter

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 1:44pm

    Re: edWARd sNOWden

    If you tell the truth to people, make them laugh, or they will kill you. OW

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 1:52pm

    is there any fear of Rogers being replaced any time soon? he seems to have about as much brain, as much sense as a rocking horse!!

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 2:00pm

    Now

    The predictable response will be for the DOJ to locate the person who wrote this part of the manual and make him come forth and spew some BS written for him how this is not what this part of the manual was supposed to say or mean or that this part of the manual is not applicable in this case for [REASONS] and [BECAUSE TERRORISM!] and [LIONS, TIGERS, & BEARS, OH MY!] and then they will promptly fire him.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 2:14pm

    "Parley, Parley"

    Pirate Code (The old code)

    Are those "guidelines" the new code?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 3:08pm

    Theft

    I still don't see how this is any different from 'stealing' music. It's not like he removed the information from their database. He simply distributed a copy.

    Does this theft charge apply to government owned equipment (cell phones/cars/guns/etc.) or has it been applied to data in the past (i.e. the Manning case)?

    Making a copy isn't theft.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 4:26pm

    Re: Theft

    Actually it is different. Music is covered by copyright, whereas government documents aren't. So Snowden's actions weren't even copyright infringement, let alone theft.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 8:22pm

    Re: Joint Fed and NSA olympics

    Modern Pentathlon has never looked so attractive. Maybe they can get it on the olympic program? I hear that IOC is very open to immaterial contributions...

     

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  15.  
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    Candidate Obama vs. President Obama, Jun 24th, 2013 @ 9:12pm

    I'm appallled by the hypocrisy highlighted in TechDirt's earlier article containing a video in which Candidate Obama debates President Obama on Civil Liberties and Government Surveillance. This is just more of the same rank hypocrisy. Obama's place in history - seated in the corner & wearing a DUNCE cap.

     

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  16.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jun 25th, 2013 @ 5:23am

    Oh come on, they don't care about the Constitution anymore, why would they follow mere internal guidelines?

     

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  17.  
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    Niall (profile), Jun 25th, 2013 @ 7:09am

    Re:

    Derp derp teaparty derp!

    Was there a point to that mindless Faux-based dribbling? Maybe you missed the point where the comparison was meant to be non-complimentary to President Obama? Also, what does it have to do with this post?

    Please go back to Free Republic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 25th, 2013 @ 7:40am

    Re:

    You would have to read the secret interpretation of this policy to understand.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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