Press group raises alarm after journalist charged in alleged Tucker Carlson interview hacking

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Organisations that advocate for freedom of the press have raised concerns over a journalist being charged with hacking after he allegedly obtained unaired footage of Tucker Carlson interviewing Kanye West.

Freedom of the Press Foundation said that a federal indictment against digital journalist Timothy “Tim” Burke” poses a threat to the future of digital journalism and sets a precedent allowing for the government to seize a reporter’s computer.

The indictment, handed down by a grand jury in Florida on Thursday, alleges that Mr Burke, 45, conspired to use unauthorised credentials to access a protected computer to obtain and steal footage and then leak it – which Mr Burke’s lawyers dispute.

It stems from a federal investigation that was seemingly initiated last year after several news outlets picked up the leaked behind-the-scenes footage of Mr Carlson’s interview with the rapper, who is now known as Ye for Fox News. In May, investigators seized Mr Burke’s digital newsroom under a sealed affidavit and refused to return his electronic devices to him.

In an appeal last year, Mr Burke’s lawyers said he was able to access the footage because a confidential source directed him to an individual who was making their login credentials to the interview’s live feed, public.

Though the indictment does not name Fox News, Mr Carlson or Ye – it does list a “multinational media company based in New York City” as one of the network’s Mr Burke accessed a video stream on 6 October, the same time Mr Carlson’s interview with Ye aired.

Mr Burke, who was arrested on Thursday morning, is charged with 14 counts, some related to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Tim Burke, the Tampa-based journalist who is appealing to have the government unseal an affidavit used to search and retain his electronic devices (@bubbaprog / Twitter)
Tim Burke, the Tampa-based journalist who is appealing to have the government unseal an affidavit used to search and retain his electronic devices (@bubbaprog / Twitter)

Freedom of the Press Foundation Advocacy Director, Seth Stern, said in a press release that the act Mr Burke is charged under “is a vague, ambiguous law” that the federal judiciary has “cautioned prosecutors against testing its outer limits.”

“Prosecutors should not be experimenting with the CFAA as a means of criminalizing journalists finding information online that embarrasses public figures,” Mr Stern said.

The behind-the-scenes footage that was leaked featured unflattering anti-Semitic comments from Ye.

Caitlin Vogus, the deputy director for Freedom of the Press Foundation, said that it’s part of the job of an investigative journalist to find information that powerful people would prefer to keep secret.

“Journalists should be encouraged to use the internet to find newsworthy information – not prosecuted for doing so,” Ms Vogus said in a press statement.

Attorneys for Mr Burke told CNN that their client was “devastated by the charges” professionally, emotionally and financially.

The Independent has reached out to Mr Burke’s lawyers and Fox News for comment.