The term 'leak' has been applied to the dissemination of classified information. Examples include:

In each of the cases above, a proxy (i.e. WikiLeaks \ The Guardian) was used to disseminate the information to the public.


  1. Is the proxy a necessary element of a leak?

  2. Must the information be classified by the government to be a leak?

  3. Must there be an element of threat to National Security as a result of information disclosure?

In reviewing the accusation that James Comey is a 'Leaker' by Donald Trump, I am trying to understand what the generally accepted connotation is associated with the term ( and not necessarily the Trump definition of leak).

As I understand it, there is no formal definition and documented concensus for the term (hence the questions centered around the 3 elements), however its widespread use may signal a need for a definition

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    The answer would depend solely on the wholly subjective definition of what you think constitutes (or doesn't constitute) a "leak". Lacking a specific formal definition, the answer can't be objectively offered. – user4012 Jun 9 '17 at 17:46
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    I'm sure reasonable sources of definition exist so it can avoid being responders' opinion, but I doubt all reasonable sources agree so a single right answer may be impossible. – user9389 Jun 9 '17 at 17:57
  • Suggestion (I won't make this change since it alters the question): Narrow the scope to classified information. That can be objectively answered. – Machavity Jun 9 '17 at 18:08
  1. No. Telling a single individual who should not have the information is a leak. Merriam-Webster defines leak as

    to become known despite efforts at concealment

    • confidential information leaked out
  2. No. Leaks don't have to be from government information. The word is confidential. Technically it could be information from a private individual. It's more commonly an organization or a famous person, because it's difficult to make information from a private individual important enough to be leaked.

    • A priest could leak information from the confessional for example.
  3. No. Again, the word is confidential.

All that said, in the context of the government, we are frequently discussing leaks of classified material with a national security impact. This is because it is illegal to leak such material.

But that's not the only kind of leak. Any information that is confidential can be leaked. This could be details of a meeting or the identification of a Christmas present. Some leaks may be trivial, but they still meet the definition of concealed information that is released anyway.

A recent example is that emails were leaked from the Hillary Clinton campaign (via the WikiLeaks proxy). These didn't involve classified information, as the campaign's email system was not secure enough to hold classified information. That information was simply private to the campaign.

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