Friday, August 23, 2013

Chevron: The NSA of the Corporate World?

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

For anyone interested in how our national surveillance state and leading U.S. corporations work in lockstep, look no further than what Chevron is doing to spy on the critics of its environmental atrocities and human rights violations in Ecuador.

Yesterday, a Magistrate Judge in San Francisco granted oil giant Chevron access to many years of private email account information from nearly 40 email accounts belonging to human rights and environmental activists, lawyers, and their allies. All have some connection to the people who have held Chevron accountable
in the Ecuador litigation. However, sometimes the connection is tenuous at best,
as in the case of Australian law professor and journalist Kevin Jon
Heller, who blasted Chevron and its lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher on high profile legal blog Opinio Juris.

While quashing subpoenas for some of the accounts Chevron sought, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins of the Northern District of California ordered Google and Yahoo! to turn over years of private email account information from dozens of other Yahoo! and Gmail accounts to Chevron. This follows last month's order from Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, who ordered Microsoft to turn over private email information from an additional 30 Hotmail accounts.

So if you've already been worrying about who may be snooping on you, add Chevron Corporation to the list.

Chevron has a long history of trying to suppress the First Amendment rights of its critics. CEO John Watson lost his cool and had five such critics arrested at a Chevron shareholder meeting in 2010.  The environmental and human rights group Amazon Watch has been repeatedly harassed and subpoenaed by the company for exercising its constitutional right to call it out publicly for its abuses in Ecuador, but has managed to fight off the oil giant's bullying efforts to access troves of internal documents and communications.

Over the years, Watson and his CEO predecessor David O'Reilly have even repeatedly turned off the microphones of Ecuadorians indigenous leaders and farmers who have come to speak to them at shareholder meetings.

Even if Chevron isn't sweeping up data randomly from millions of people like the NSA, it is indisputable that it is using its vast oil riches to spy on and demand email data from its critics. But if you support the communities in Ecuador who have fought for decades to hold Chevron accountable for its widespread environmental devastation and human rights abuses, you may find yourself on the wrong side of a subpoena.

As Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said recently:

"Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron. These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant's activities in Ecuador."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and EarthRights International (ERI) provided legal assistance to third parties affected by the Chevron litigation. You can read their motions to quash the subpoenas in the Northern District of California here, and in the Northern District of New York here.

Incredibly, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who is presiding over and doing his best to promote the retaliatory RICO lawsuit Chevron is pursuing against lead U.S. attorney Steven Donziger and some of the "named plaintiffs" in the lawsuit against Chevron that resulted in a $19 billion judgment against the company, managed to find a way to sit by "special designation" to decide on the enforceability of the Microsoft subpoenas. Donziger and the "named plaintiffs" in the litigation against Chevron have filed a petition with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to have Judge Kaplan removed from the case for bias. In an extraordinary move, the appellate court has set oral argument on the issue for September 26th. If Kaplan gets tossed, Chevron's strategy would suffer a devastating setback.

As a previous post here at The Chevron Pit notes:

The Second Circuit invited Kaplan to defend himself in light of a petition filed by the Ecuadorians and one of their lawyers, New York attorney Steven Donziger, seeking his reassignment. While most such requests are quickly dismissed, there clearly is something about Judge Kaplan's behavior that is catching the Second Circuit's attention.
But while in its fight to evade accountability for its devastation in Ecuador, Chevron may have found a tremendous ally in Judge Kaplan, the lengths to which the oil giant has shown it will go to evade justice is what's truly frightening.

Besides 2,000 legal personnel from 60 law firms, Chevron's efforts to evade justice have been aided by 180 investigators from Kroll, a large global private investigation firm which operates as a sort of private KGB spy service for its corporate clients. Kroll's shady services for Chevron first came to light when a journalist detailed the firm's attempts to bribe her to spy on Chevron critics in Ecuador. And the reality is that we don't really know what Chevron is doing behind the scenes. Kroll has admitted compiling “20 to 30” reports on Donziger, who along with his family has been followed around Manhattan and put under surveillance by unknown plainclothes operatives.

But now, with its mind-boggling resources and boundless cynicism, the oil behemoth has managed to convince judges in the U.S. to allow the company to go ahead and spy on Chevron critics itself, with the court's blessing.

Critics of the NSA's spying program have pointed out the slippery slope we've been sliding down when it comes to protecting free speech, privacy, and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution in this country.

Chevron gaining access to its critics' private email account information opens up a whole new slope, and it's oil-slick slippery. Will Big Oil want your info? Or another company you've protested over its dastardly deeds? What will they go after it next?

Or whom?

No comments:

Post a Comment