COMMENTARY: Keeping you confidential
June 4, 2008
By THE EDITORS
Internet journalism and Web sites like this wade through uncharted legal and ethical waters.
One of the first difficult issues to surface related to the content not of our news articles, but to the readers’ comments that the news generated. Sometimes edgy, sometimes salty, sometimes border-line idiotic, these comments are nevertheless informative, interesting, fun. We delete only under the most extreme circumstances.
And then a second, more important, concern raised its head: Is the identity of authors who post comments fair game for anyone who might make such a demand?
UncoveredSLO.com said no. We treat our readers’ comments as information from confidential sources.
A series of articles by UncoveredSLO.com May 15-17 generated a flood of comments from readers, many of whom were worried investors.
Our emerging policy was put to a quick test when a posting by “Gloria” suggested that local elite developers and banks might be behaving questionably.
The e-mail contained numbers described as belonging to “secret accounts” at some local banks. We quickly heard from officials at Heritage Oaks Bank. Then, a person describing himself as a spokesman for developers Ronald W. Hertel and Robert JS Fowler wrote an e-mail claiming the numbers in question belonged to them.
Both the bank and the developers demanded IP [Internet provider] addresses of posting individuals. We agreed to obfuscate the numbers; we vigorously declined to provide the IP addresses.
Here’s the posting that started a fascinating and educational exchange:
May 17, 2008
“You’re all on the right track, but the monies are moving faster than you know. Here at Heritage Oaks are some of the secret accounts #’s 117XX, 329XX ($2,700,941.25) 7075XXX, 7073XXX, 285496XXX, 7406XXX, 7074XXX and the list goes on and on and on not to mention other financial and banking firms. SLO-HAAS, LLC and Atascadero Ventures, LLC are two of many fronts for developers to open and hide illegal monies and launder assets. Federal Tax ID # 77-0582XXX keep in mind some banking officials have gotten some kick backs to conceal real owners of accounts and conceal monies from all of these joint scams, your correct it is a Ponzi con.”
In our wildest dreams, we could not have predicted the e-mails and phone calls that would follow:
Here’s an e-mail from Heritage Oaks Bank’s Senior Vice President and Risk Manager William R. Raver, May 20, 2008
“I am just following up on my earlier e-mails and telephone calls to you. Are you willing to redact the private information posted to your blog site? Are you willing to cooperate in investigating the source of the information disclosed?
“If I cannot resolve this privately, I will have no choice but to involve law enforcement. As the editors of the site, you are responsible to insure that the site is not used illegally by third parties. I need to have your response to my query by Wednesday morning, as I will have to notify the affected parties (who will probably want to pursue their own legal remedies) and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent further dissemination of non-public personal information.”
A few days later the following e-mail arrived, from someone identifying himself both as “Ed Rollins” and “Ed Rollings.”
“We are writing to you in regard to confidential information that has been posted on your website. The information pertains to Heritage Oaks bank account numbers as well as federal tax ID #’s and Social Security numbers belonging to Mr. Robert JS Fowler and Mr. Ronald W. Hertel. This information has been posted in several forums including: “Inside EFI: An Investors Nightmare” posted May 17; “Inside EFI: Under the Microscope,” posted May 18; “Banks on thin ice after risky loans to developer” posted May18 by “Anonymous” and May 19 by David G.
“We realize that you have partially blocked out the account numbers; however a complete deletion of the entry is requested. The continued advertisement of this information violates personal privacy laws and assists in identity theft, a federal crime. Entries containing this information were posted on TOPIX.com and COMPLAINTSBOARD.com. The site editors immediately complied with our request and are willing to provide any information necessary in the prosecution of person/s involved with the assimilation and release of said information. Removing this information from your site will only serve to increase your site’s reputation as a forum for honest and ethical communication. Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.”
There was no prompt attention to this request.
Readers, please note: Once you post, your comment becomes part of the public dialog thread that follows. Our policy is not to remove posts unless we deem them to be vulgar or completely tasteless; posted with an attempt to defame; or completely out of place. We are not responsible for the postings of our readers. Nor will we comply with demands to remove an entry, or to divulge its author.