Month: August 2009

Twitter Hack Case Could Test Shield for Blogs

FREE PRESS — Exploiting a computer network's imperfect security, a hacker unlawfully gains access to private company messages and other documents and copies and forwards them to an Internet information site, where some are posted.  The company seeks to find out who the hacker was.  If the Internet site is found to be a journalistic publisher under California law, it may be able to ignore the company's subpoena, which would be unenforceable, notes attorney Jeffrey D. Neuburger in MediaShift. In June of this year, the personal email account of a Twitter employee was accessed, apparently as a result of an insecure password. By Twitter's own account, the unauthorized access to that account was the first in a series of actions that ultimately gained the hacker (who calls himself "Hacker Croll") access to Twitter corporate documents that were maintained on Google Apps. The documents ranged from executive meeting notes, partner agreements, financial projections and sensitive personal information such as credit card numbers, to more mundane items such as the meal preferences, calendars and phone logs of various Twitter employees. The hacker eventually sent the documents to tech blog TechCrunch, which decided to post some but not all of them. They are online here, here and here. Soon, a debate raged about whether or not TechCrunch was right to post the documents. The Twitter files in question aren't exactly the Pentagon...

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Tax Fraud Informant Gets Harsh Prison Term

WHISTEBLOWERS — " If he had kept his mouth shut and his head low, Bradley Birkenfeld would be a free man today. He didn’t, so now the former UBS Swiss banker wears an electronic bracelet on his ankle and, beginning in January, will spend three years and four months in a federal penitentiary," notes columnist Ann Woolner for Bloomberg News. He’s headed for prison even though he blew the whistle on a multibillion-dollar international tax fraud conspiracy. Birkenfeld’s information let the U.S. pierce Swiss bank secrecy laws as never before possible. “We will be receiving an unprecedented amount of information on taxpayers who have evaded their tax obligation by hiding money offshore at UBS,” Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman said in a statement last week. Because of Birkenfeld, the feds are now going after hundreds, possibly thousands, of tax evaders. They have collected a $780 million fine from UBS and forced the bank’s cooperation in finding previously secret customers. The list of those so far charged in the scheme numbers nine, led by Raoul Weil, the former chief executive officer of global wealth management for UBS. So why is the man who blew the whistle on a mammoth tax fraud facing prison time? The feds will tell you it’s because he played a role in the conspiracy, a fact he failed to mention when he first stepped forward....

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Governor Gets Shield for UC Whistleblowers

WHISTLEBLOWERS — On a 22-14 vote, the California State Senate today approved legislation to provide University of California employees who report waste, fraud and abuse with the same legal protections available to other state employees, reports the bill's author, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo). "Despite overwhelming support from open government advocates and UC students, faculty, and workers, the University administration continues to oppose the measure," he said. "This is the classic case of the fox guarding the hen house, and yet another example of UC administrators opposing a commonsense reform. UC executives should not be judge and jury on whether or not they are liable for monetary claims. This was not the intent of California´s whistleblower law." In July 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled (Miklosy v. the Regents of the University of California (S139133, July 31, 2008) that UC employees who are retaliated against because they report wrongdoing cannot sue for damages under the state´s Whistleblower Protection Act, so long as the University itself reviews the complaints in a timely fashion. The ruling uncovered an oversight made by the Legislature when the Act was amended in 2001, which provided legal standing for all other state employees to seek damages. "In light of the Court´s ruling, it is imperative that the Governor sign SB 219 to immediately correct this statute and protect UC workers from unfair retaliation for...

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Swiss Bank Informer Looking at Bars, Not Bounty

WHISTLEBLOWERS — Bradley C. Birkenfeld, the former UBS banker who helped break the secrecy of the Swiss bank—a practice that not only sustained uncounted spy novels, but was widely considered inviolable—is facing years in prison after blowing the whistle on tax cheating via offshore accounts. As reported by David S. Hilzenrath for the Washington Post, Birkenfeld's tale reads like a pulp thriller, complete with the international smuggling of diamonds stashed in a toothpaste tube. Long-running U.S. federal probes of UBS had already driven the bank to accept a $780 million settlement, admit that it helped Americans hide money from the Internal Revenue Service and, under orders from a Swiss regulator, turn over the names of 200 to 300 American depositors, many of whom are now under criminal investigation. Now in Switzerland, where secrecy is the bedrock of a lucrative global banking industry, there are widespread fears that business will never be the same. The IRS said on Wednesday that its probe of American offshore tax dodgers will not stop with UBS. All of that is attributable in large part to Birkenfeld, the 44-year-old son of a Massachusetts neurosurgeon, who approached U.S. authorities in 2007 and provided an extraordinary inside account of the bank's conduct, according to court papers filed Tuesday. Birkenfeld, who pleaded guilty to a criminal charge last year for participating in UBS's illicit cross-border business, is scheduled...

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Ex-Sunshine Lawyer Gets Public Record Backup

PUBLIC RECORDS — A former staff lawyer for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, beset by personal problems and clashing with police for the third time this year, had his side of an incident that led him to be tased by two officers backed up by . . . a publicly released police surveillance video. According to the report by Dave Collins for the Associated Press, Officer Erik Hansen was fingerprinting former Connecticut Freedom of Information attorney Henry "Hank" Pawlowski Jr. on Aug. 5 on allegations he assaulted another officer in June. The video, which has no sound, shows Pawlowski slightly raising his right arm when Hansen roughly drives him to the floor and two other officers shoot Pawlowski with stun guns. Police then charged Pawlowski with interfering with an officer. According to Hansen's report, Pawlowski stepped back and took a threatening stance while he was being fingerprinted. "Twice he pulled his hand away and I cautioned him to keep his fingers flat on the scanner," Hansen wrote. "The third time he pulled back his hand, stepped back, focused on me and took a stance as if to attack me. I then grabbed Pawlowski around his neck and shoulders and drove him to the floor." The video, obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information request, doesn't show Pawlowski taking time to focus on the officer and...

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