Exec Who Had Sealed US Court Docs Seized By UK Parliament Suggests UK Journalist Tipped Off Parliament

from the not-exactly-sure-that's-a-journalist's-role... dept

So, earlier this week we wrote about some highly questionable activities by UK Member of Parliament Damian Collins who used an almost-never-used provision of the law to force a visiting tech exec to hand over documents in a US lawsuit that had been sealed by the court. Those documents were then used to put on a bizarre show trial in which Collins proceeded to drop a bombshell, via the seized documents, suggesting that Facebook had known about Russian abuse of its API. That "bombshell" fizzled into nothing when it came out that the rest of the email thread revealed... that someone jumped the gun, and it wasn't Russians, it wasn't 3 billion piece of data, and the API wasn't being abused. Oops.

This story continues to get more bizarre with the latest redaction failure in one of the sealed documents revealing some of the details that the company, Six4Three -- makers of a pervy app to let you scan Facebook for pics of women in bikinis -- was claiming proved that Facebook was engaged in anticompetitive practices when it changed the way its API worked.

But, a big mystery has remained in all of this: how the hell did Damian Collins know that the Six4Three exec, Ted Kramer, would be in the UK in that particular hotel. And, as a recent filing in the case suggests, Collins may have been tipped off... by the Guardian reporter, Carole Cadwalladr, who broke the story of the documents being seized (filing first spotted by Buzzfeed).

This is kind of a big deal. And I know that some people don't care about the ethical questions around journalism if the end results target a company they dislike, but Cadwalladr's role here certainly raises questions. Cadwalladr has been rightly celebrated for many of her recent stories, including detailed ones about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Cadwalladr had apparently been pursuing Kramer as a source for a long time -- which is what a good journalist should be doing. But, the latest filing raises questions of how far Cadwalladr would go to get her hands on these documents that she believed were damning to Facebook.

During one such trip in May of this year, Mr. Kramer met with Carole Cadwalladr, a reporter for The Guardian, who was interested in the instant matter.... During that meeting, Mr. Kramer shared with her the public allegations in this case.... She asked him frequently during this meeting if he could share any documents with her.... Each time she requested this information, Mr. Kramer informed her that Facebook’s confidential documents were subject to a Protective Order; and that they could not be released without either an order from this Court or Facebook’s consent.

On August 28, 2018, Mr. Kramer again met with Ms. Cadwalladr, in California.... She informed him that she would like to raise Six4Three’s case with Damian Collins MP, the Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee (“DCMS”), a Parliamentary Committee in the United Kingdom investigating Facebook’s management of third party access to user data.... Mr. Kramer informed Ms. Cadwalladr that he was willing to speak with Mr. Collins.....

After this there are a number of paragraphs involving the MP Collins, and some of his staff, emailing Kramer asking for the documents, and Kramer telling them that he could not share them. And then this happened:

On November 17, 2018, Ms. Cadwalladr called Mr. Kramer.... Mr. Kramer informed her that he had a business trip to London, and she suggested they meet for her to receive another update on the case.... Mr. Kramer agreed to meet with her at his hotel and sent her a calendar invitation with the address of the hotel....

On November 19, 2018, Mr. Kramer arrived in London to attend business meetings unrelated to Six4Three....

Upon arriving, Mr. Kramer received an email from DCMS, which attached an Order to Produce Documents (“DCMS Order #1”), demanding his compliance no later than 5pm local time on the next day, November 20, 2018.

Separately, the filing details how Six4Three's lawyers (and Facebook's lawyers) did not think that Kramer actually had access to any of the sealed documents, but then they realized that he did have access as the administrator of Six4Three's shared Dropbox account. While the company's lawyers removed the documents from that shared folder, they did not realize that thanks to Dropbox's sync function, copies were already stored on Kramer's laptop (a lesson for lawyers out there!).

But, the larger question here, is that the filing hints strongly that Cadwalladr tipped off Collins to the fact that Kramer was in London and where his hotel was. She was the only one who knew that information, and she had previously both pushed to get the documents in question and to tell Collins about them. She, also, was the first to report that Collins had seized those documents.

I have no problem with the documents coming out and becoming public. Reporters help publicize otherwise secret documents all the time. However, there are pretty serious ethics questions about a reporter basically engaging the power of the government to force someone to hand over documents. So far, Cadwalladr and the Guardian have done their "no comment" thing about this, but imagine this kind of thing in other contexts and it should be massively concerning. Would it be okay, for example, for a reporter to get the Trump administration to seize documents from, let's say, Amazon, based on a desire to get those documents out in the public?

Yes, we want a press that speaks truth to power -- and that includes both government and large corporate entities. But a journalist conspiring with the government to use questionable means to seize documents goes way over the ethical line.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 11:48am

    Goodbye professional ethics and reputation

    If they're willing to do something like that, tipping off politicians with an axe to grind to get access to documents that have been withheld from them up to that point because they were under seal by a court, any potential source would be well served to refuse any contact with her, because it's very clear that she will do whatever it takes to gain access to potentially juicy information, even if that means burning her own sources.

    Don't even send back a 'no comment', just refuse to acknowledge any communications from her, blocking her if able, and if asked by another why simply explain that she apparently cannot be trusted to act in a professional manner, and as such it would be a waste of time if not potential risk interacting with her.

    I'd hope that The Guardian publicly calls her out if not fires her for this, because if they don't they are all but saying flat out that they have no problem with their reporters making use of the kind of tactics you'd expect from sleazy paparazzi and the kind of magazines that employ them.

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

    • icon
      stderric (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 4:14pm

      Re: Goodbye professional ethics and reputation

      I'd hope that The Guardian publicly calls her out if not fires her for this, because if they don't they are all but saying flat out that they have no problem with their reporters making use of the kind of tactics you'd expect from sleazy paparazzi and the kind of magazines that employ them.

      The Guardian of a few years ago would call her out. The Guardian today? They'll give her a bonus and ask her to write a story about how Mark Zuckerberg conspired with Julian Assange to help Russia annex Crimea in 2014, which lead to a tenfold increase in international sex trafficking and... I dunno, Trump and puppy vivisection cults.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2018 @ 6:10am

      Re: Goodbye professional ethics and reputation

      They are a business - old media is /pissed/ that blogs beat them in quality and social media in popularity. They have been trying to engineer a "tech-lash" for a while now - now they are frothing at the mouth and being way less subtle in their hatred.

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

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 11:53am

    some of the details that the company, Six4Three ... was claiming proved that Facebook was engaged in anticompetitive practices when it changed the way its API worked.

    Wait, isn't that common knowledge? Everyone already knows that the reason why they made those changes was to make it more difficult to share information with third parties--AKA anticompetitive practices. IIRC they flat-out admitted as much, cloaking it in self-serving language about protecting users' privacy, and Mike even did an article about how that was a disingenuous explanation at best, as what it really did was strengthen Facebook's control over information and increase their degree of lock-in.

    Or am I thinking of some other API change that they made to screw over everyone else? It wouldn't surprise me to hear they'd done so multiple times...

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Axel Bering, 30 Nov 2018 @ 6:07pm

    No, four pieces this week suggest you're upset!

    > I have no problem with the documents coming out and becoming public.

    Baloney. You are ALWAYS against corporations being accountable to the public. It's belied by the four pieces this week, remarkably quick for Techdirt, in which you and minion or two wring hands for *no obvious reason except that it's now out.*

    > But a journalist conspiring with the government to use questionable means to seize documents goes way over the ethical line.

    SO logically from that you repudiate Snowden and all whistleblowers. "Unethically" (in your view) is only way Truth is likely to emerge from bureaucracies of any kind.

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

  • icon
    mvario (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 6:20pm

    One question...

    She was the only one who knew that information How do we know that?

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

  • icon
    mvario (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 6:21pm

    One question...

    She was the only one who knew that information

    How do we know that?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2018 @ 9:02am

      Re:

      besides, it was the UK.

      I would not discount the possibility that her communications were being monitored by that government, and that it was not her that tipped of the MP.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2018 @ 6:00am

      Re:

      Obviously a lie.

      He new too, as did some people at the hotel, and probably people at the travel agency he used to book the trip.

      Oh, and the cab driver who dropped him off at the hotel.

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

  • identicon
    Christenson, 30 Nov 2018 @ 6:22pm

    Journalistic ethics explanation

    I don't think Mr Masnick is upset, his keel is a little too even.

    As to journalistic ethics, I think a short explanation from Techdirt might be in order, perhaps like this:

    Journalists are supposed to be like Caesar's wife Calphurnia, that is, above reproach. Good journalists uncover and explain the WHOLE truth. And speak truth to power, that is, expose the "little white lies".

    I think Mike's problem arises here, where there's a definite appearance that a journalist did a great deal more than just seek out facts and report on them...like maybe spying on this facebook exec, and alerting the MP about his presence in the UK. That makes the journalist much more of an "interested party" in the whole situation, not someone working in the public interest by just reporting facts.

    *****
    As others note above, what's in that filing is a pretty straightforward inference from common knowledge. So I'll add a third moral question: Just why was this stuff sealed?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2018 @ 6:48am

      Re: Journalistic ethics explanation

      This guy isn't a Facebook exec. He's someone who is suing Facebook. He's got the files because his case involves discovery, and the files are under seal because they aren't his, they're Facebook's, which is a company he doesn't work for.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Nov 2018 @ 6:47pm

    It's a pity this 'journalist' couldn't apply this sort of gumption covering the decades of child abuse and financial abuse by those in power.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2018 @ 7:38pm

      Re:

      If she tried that, she would no longer be a journalist. You either cover the approved stories, or you are not allowed to be covered by journalistic laws. It's good to be in charge of a corrupt government. It is easy to keep that power if you only allow leaders with vile blackmail on them to achieve visible power.

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

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 1 Dec 2018 @ 12:13am

    About time ...

    the US of A finds out what it feels like to have their legal system bulldozed over by some other country that uses legal finickery (strictly on foreigners only!) to bulldoze away the legal protection their own country provides.

    Enemy combatants sound familiar? Targeted Assassinations? NSA spy programs? Wars in Irak, Afganistan - all around the world?

    All of these are illegal in the countries where people are targeted. And none of these would be possible without those journalists banging the war drums, cheering along the audience. Journalists who consider themselves as moral, with high integraty, ethical.

    If America wants back Democracy, Human rights and the rule of law - start at home, please, and not by demanding things from others that you are not prepared to do yourselves!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2018 @ 4:35am

    This is total BS, the Lawyer wanted the documents were they are or the parliament wouldn't have them, the lawyer needs to be disbarred for releasing privileged information.

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

  • identicon
    Ian Waring, 1 Dec 2018 @ 4:45am

    ?

    As a longtime fan of Techdirt and consumer of the Podcast every week, this is a really bizarre reaction. If you're in the UK, a US court has zero reach or control over the UK legal system. Putting something under seal in California has zero jurisdiction here.

    Further, a reporter tipping off a UK MP that a person of interest to the wider Mueller and DMCS investigation - with a part that follows people, money flows and timelines that took place ahead of Trump and BRexit - was in the UK staying at a particular hotel - whoopie do. Quite a stretch to allege an ethics violation.

    The whole foreign powers influence thing is playing out like "all the president's men" but across several continents. CW is doing class work to out the full extent of it, one piece at a time.

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

    • icon
      stderric (profile), 1 Dec 2018 @ 9:25am

      Re: ?

      Further, a reporter tipping off a UK MP that a person of interest to the wider Mueller and DMCS investigation - with a part that follows people, money flows and timelines that took place ahead of Trump and BRexit - was in the UK staying at a particular hotel - whoopie do. Quite a stretch to allege an ethics violation.

      Ignore the ethics angle. Ignore the fact that the seizure of the documents is legal in the UK. Cadwalladr was trying to use Kramer as a source to get dirt on Facebook, and when he wouldn't reveal as much as she wanted, she leveraged the power of the government to gain access to the material she wanted -- a move that could have landed him in legal trouble with US courts (violating the seal on the documents) or at the very least hurt his case against FB.

      How many potential sources is she going to lose for future stories she may work on because of an action like this? Forget about things being technically legal and ethical: this move destroys trust.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 1 Dec 2018 @ 11:45am

        'Not willing to talk eh? We'll see about that.'

        How many potential sources is she going to lose for future stories she may work on because of an action like this?

        'All of them' if they are at all smart, as she's made clear she's willing to get her sources arrested if they refuse to hand over what she wants and she believes(correctly in this case) that tipping off the government to arrest them and threaten legal penalties will allow her to get it.

        After this stunt any would-be sources would have to be insane to deliberately have anything to do with her.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 1 Dec 2018 @ 11:57am

      Re: ?

      If you seriously don't see what the issue is with a reporter being refused access to documents because they were under seal then setting up her source to be arrested and threatened in court to get them, I really don't know what to say other than you seem to have insanely low standards for what qualifies as professional ethics, at least when it comes to that field.

      Forget the scuzzy gloating of the UK MP's and the matter of jurisdiction, the 'reporter'(and I use that term very loosely) used the government to get what she wanted via threats when her would-be source refused because the documents in question were under seal. Whether he was in the US or UK he would still have been violating a court order had he revealed them, such that he rightly refused, only to have her set him up and get him arrested to force the issue.

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

  • identicon
    Tom Wright, 1 Dec 2018 @ 5:26am

    Carol isn't known as the Mad Cat Lady for nothing

    Bonkers.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2018 @ 4:35pm

    Entirely separate from whether or not it actually happened, why would the UK government need a journalist to inform them about Mr. Kramer being in London? Presumably he had arrived in the country legally and the government would therefore be aware of it.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 1 Dec 2018 @ 4:43pm

      'X entered the country' vs 'X, now here, has what you want.'

      Plenty of people enter and exit the country on a regular basis, so unless they were specifically paying attention to the case in the US and had reason to believe that he had access to the documents they wanted they would have had no reason to give him any more attention than anyone else.

      If they were told that he would be at a certain hotel at a certain time and had access to certain documents on the other hand...

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2018 @ 8:17am

    Ted Kramer should have call US consular service at the US embassy for advise and assistance, Did he? He had more than 24 hours to do so - why didn't he?

    I think someone need to look into ol' Teddy's offshore accounts.

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


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