Journalist’s phone records stolen

New York, November 5, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned that New York Post columnist and Red Herring magazine contributing editor Chris Byron’s phone records have been illegally obtained by individuals seeking access to his journalistic sources.

In an October 19 article, the New York Post first reported that Byron’s phone records had been stolen. Yesterday, Byron told CPJ that the records included the numbers of several confidential sources for a Red Herring column in which he criticized the operations and management of the Vancouver-based company Imagis Technologies. Imagis produces biometric facial recognition software, which helps identify criminals. Oliver “Buck” Revell, a former associate deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is director and chairman of the company.

The attempts to illegally access the journalist’s phone records began on August 1, the day when the story went to the printer, Byron told CPJ. During a 10-week period, 48 phone calls were made to AT&T in an attempt to acquire the password to Byron’s phone account and download his records from the AT&T Web site.

According to Byron, on October 16, AT&T informed him that a person claiming to be his wife had contacted an AT&T subcontractor the previous day and had convinced a representative to disclose 94 names and phone numbers of people Byron had called in July. An hour and a half later, someone else called claiming to be Byron himself and had the same representative read back all the phone records, apparently to check them for accuracy.

That evening, Byron reported the incident to the FBI. Since the day of the theft, at least one of the persons Byron talked to in July has had his own phone records stolen in the same manner.

Red Herring
has posted a letter on its Web site signed by its editor, Blaise Zerega, and dated September 13, 2002, stating that the magazine has been sued for libel by Imagis Technologies in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. According to Red Herring, the lawsuit alleges that a column by Byron, posted online on August 5 and published in the September issue of the magazine, is defamatory. In the letter, Zerega wrote that the magazine had checked the accuracy of Byron’s work and stands behind his column.