Last week, ThinkProgress revealed that top lawyers for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce solicited private security contractors to investigate the Chamber’s political opponents. The law firm, Hunton & Williams LLP, represents the Chamber against campaigns by unions and political activists. In 2009, the Chamber paid Hunton & Williams $1,147,644 for its services. The law firm has represented subprime mortgagers, global warming polluters, and tobacco giant Phillip Morris.
Three Hunton & Williams partners engaged the services of Palantir, Berico Technologies, and HBGary Federal to perform the invasions of privacy the Chamber itself now describes as “abhorrent“:
— Richard L. Wyatt Jr., co-head of the firm’s Litigation Group, who is suing the Yes Men on behalf of the Chamber. Wyatt negotiated with the spy firms on pricing and told them he would sell the project to the Chamber.
— Robert T. Quackenboss, a lawyer who handles “the tactical and public communications response to union-coordinated attack campaigns.” In this effort, Quackenboss was the “key client contact operationally” with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
— John W. Woods, an expert on “electronic surveillance” and “corporate crimes.” Woods was the “primary point of contact” with the corporate spy contractors.
A key service that attracted the Chamber’s lawyers to the corporate spies was the ability of HBGary’s CEO Aaron Barr to use computer programs and false “personas” to “scrape” personal information from the websites of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites. Such acts are in explicit contravention of the legal terms of service of Facebook and LinkedIn.
Emails leaked from HBGary’s servers describe how Hunton & Williams solicited Berico, Palantir, and HBGary — who named their collaboration “Themis,” after the Roman goddess of law and order — to use social media scrapers developed by HBGary to investigate political opponents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Although Hunton & Williams avoided paying for the months of work, their officials solicited the proposal; repeatedly met with all participants; were fully aware that HBGary was scraping sensitive personal information about political adversaries of the Chamber; and praised the results of joint presentations by Berico, Palantir, and HBGary showing off the scrapers.
In January of this year, H&W sent by courier a CD with target data to the contractors. H&W also solicited the Themis team to produce a presentation on WikiLeaks for Bank of America that promoted their Facebook scraper.
“Misuses of social media can result in damage to the employer’s reputation, breach of confidentiality, and trade secret theft,” Hunton & Williams ironically noted last year on one of its blogs. As of yet, it has refused to comment on its own misuse of social media on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.