The activist group called "anonymous," best known for its jousts with the Church of Scientology, has apparently hacked into the private Yahoo e-mail account of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president. Contents of that account, including two sample e-mails, an index of messages and Palin family photos, have been posted by the whistleblower site Wikileaks, which contends that they constitute evidence that Palin has improperly used her private e-mail to shield government business from public scrutiny, an issue that had already been raised by others.
From a Wikileaks press release:
The internet activist group 'anonymous', famed for its exposure of unethical behavior by the Scientology cult, has now gone after the Alaskan governor and republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
At around midnight last night the group gained access to governor Palin's email account ... and handed over the contents to the government sunshine site Wikileaks.org.
Governor Palin has come under media criticism in the past week for using pseudo-private email accounts to avoid Alaskan freedom of information laws.
The zip archive made available by Wikileaks contains screen shots of Palin's inbox, two example emails, governor Palin's address box and a couple of family photos. While the emails released so far reveal little, the list of correspondence appears to re-enforce the criticism that Palin is mixing governmental and personal affairs.
There's no way to tell at a glance whether this material is authentic or a hoax, but the organizations involved are well known. Obviously, the method by which the information was obtained and posted will be hugely controversial. (And inclusion of the pictures seems gratuitous, if not mean.)
However, the e-mail index from Palin's account does appear to indicate that she has been using it for both private and official business, with one entry addressed to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and another to Palin's chief of staff, Michael Nizich, to cite only two obvious examples.
As for the sample e-mails, rather than bolstering the contention that Palin uses private e-mail to avoid possible public scrutiny of official business, at first blush they actually seem indicative of her dutifully separating Alaska business from Alaska and national politics. Both samples are overtly political in nature, which, based on my admittedly limited understanding of the law in this area, make them inappropriate when using government resources.
Of course, those are only two e-mails and one would expect others to be forthcoming.
(Update: Inquiry in for comment from Yahoo. That should be interesting.)
(Update, 6:30 p.m.: Comment from Yahoo: "Yahoo! treats issues of security and privacy very seriously. ... To protect the privacy of our users, we are not able to comment on the details of a specific user account. ... Generally, if Yahoo! receives reports that an account has been compromised, we investigate for suspicious activity and take appropriate action. ... As the largest Web mail service in the US, Yahoo! Mail seeks to help educate consumers with online safety tips at security.yahoo.com.")