Who is John Napier Tye, the lawyer for the Silicon Valley whistleblowers?

If the whistleblowers multiply in Silicon Valley, it is thanks to personalities like John Tye, the lawyer of Frances Haugen. Portrait of a man who goes beyond anger.

He is best known for being the lawyer for Frances Haugen, the former employee of Mark Zuckerberg who was behind the recent Facebook Files scandal. But he represented many other whistleblowers, such as the anonymous and Ukrainian one who provoked President Trump’s first impeachment, or the journalist of the New Yorker at the origin of the cases Weinstein, Epstein but also Gina Haspel (the former director of the CIA). Short, John Napier Tye is a heavyweight man in the ecosystem that supports whistleblowers. He himself comes from there: he is at the origin, in 2013, of the “other affair” of the NSA, as it was called then, theExecutive Decree 12333, as problematic as the PRISM program denounced by Edward Snowden. But despite these impressive facts of glory, John Napier Tye first and foremost remains a man in the shadows. Not inclined to confide in, he prefers to draw attention to whistleblowers that he defends. Portrait of a man as discreet as he is extraordinary.

Since 2017, the NGO Whistleblower Aid has been flying to the aid of whistleblowers

“I would like to talk about Whistleblower Aid first,” he says. This NGO, which he created in 2017 with lawyer Mark S. Zaid, “defends whistleblowers of all types, and of all nationalities, by relying on a team of specialized lawyers”. Every day, he and his colleagues receive phone calls or secure emails via anonymization servers like TOR, platforms like Signal, from whistleblowers working in the United States and abroad. If Whistleblower Aid is not the only structure to legally defend whistleblowers (we will mention in particular the National Whistleblower Center, which will be the subject of a future article), it is distinguished by the free service it offers. to all its customers (see here). The NGO is financed by donations, patronage, crowdfunding.

In the case of Frances Haugen, Whistleblower Aid began by setting up a Gofundme page, which has, to date, raised nearly $ 70,000. “I prefer not to go into the details of this ultra-publicized affair”, he warns, “of which I am in any case only one of the actors among many others”. Its job, basically, is to be the submerged part of the iceberg. “Our NGO supports our clients during the various stages of this delicate process of disclosing sensitive information, but it also organizes the logistics that this implies”. The repercussions and reprisals are sometimes terrible for those who decide to break the omerta in new technologies, this world where the watchwords are “group interest”, “professional secrecy”, “confidentiality agreements”, etc. ( “Social interest”, “secret policy”, “confidentiality agreement” ). As in the excellent novel by Dave Eggers The circle, these whistleblowers sometimes see their professional and social life crumble overnight.

Therefore, Whistleblower Aid is there for those who find themselves made redundant and put to the bench of their industry following their revelations, and can no longer count on themselves. The NGO offers to host them, to help them financially. John mentions “plane tickets, hotels, security advisers, document management systems, secure cell phones.” As well as its difficulty in finding financial support in these cases. “Raising the funds needed to tackle Big Tech has proven to be more difficult than our previous efforts against political actors such as Donald Trump,” he already confided. recently at the Financial Times. In fact, his usual donors work in one way or another with the behemoths of GAFAM with whom his NGO is increasingly dealing … It is hardly surprising that they hesitate to embark on such operations. , or that they do not appear on its website in any case.

After the Facebook Files affair, Silicon Valley struggles with its giants

A wind of rebellion and revolt is blowing today in Silicon Valley. In just a few weeks, the Facebook scandal has already made many emulate, encouraging more and more employees to come out of the woods to testify to such serious facts in other companies among the most prestigious, the best listed on the stock exchange. Languages ​​are loosened at Meta, Instagram, Amazon, Pinterest and others, whose misdeeds hit the headlines almost every week, to such an extent that some CEOs have to answer for their actions in front of the Senate. Tye is behind a significant number of these cases. Who is this man who strives in this way to tirelessly defend those who dare to speak the truth, without benefiting from it?

John Napier Tye was born in 1976, in a suburb of Boston. Passionate about science since his childhood, he studied complex systems and computer science at Duke University, social sciences at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, then law at Yale, where he graduated from the bar in 2007 and obtained a doctorate. His name has remained engraved in the annals of this university. In an unprecedented gesture for the time, he convinced his university to respect a carbon neutrality policy. The institution is committed to offsetting the carbon footprint of the travel of its students and faculty by investing in renewable energies. Is it this initiative or his commitment to defending families in financial difficulty in New Orleans that prompted one of his former professors, Michael Posner, to recruit him to the State Department? Young director of the “Computer Freedom” section of the “Office for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor”, his mission is to promote, in the four corners of the world and on behalf of the United States, the values ​​that were at the origin of the Net: freedom of expression, net neutrality, digital rights, free access to the web.

“I believed that my government, faced with the scandal, would take the necessary measures. I was naive ”

When Edward Snowden reveals, in June 2013, how the National Security Agency (NSA) is monitoring the entire planet and its inhabitants, he is at the heart of the response that the government for which he works for is trying to organize. The crisis meetings are linked, it is a question of giving arguments to the White House, counterattack by recalling the good practices of the administration in digital matters. What he discovers then, in particular during two of these meetings with the directors of the NSA, worries and torments him. A little-known program, set up by Ronald Reagan at the end of the Cold War, Executive Order 12333, allows the American government to spy on whoever it wants, as long as that person is not on American soil. “Which no longer makes much sense since the invention of the Internet,” specifies John, “since everyone’s data, wherever they are and whatever their nationality, are now stored on gigabytes. spread to the four corners of the globe ”. However, if President Barack Obama indeed announces in his speech of 2014 a certain number of actions supposed to put an end to the abuses and misdeeds of the PRISM program (at least in appearance), he “forgets” to mention the existence of the Executive Order 12333. “I thought that my government, faced with the scandal, would take the necessary measures,” he smiles today. I was naive ”. Tye informs his superiors, he asks to meet with the director of the NSA, then members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In vain: nothing changes, the legislative decree is not called into question. He then files a complaint with the Inspector General of the State Department: Decree 12333 constitutes, he argues, a “violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States”.

“Mr. Tye has not contacted Wikileaks,” specifies his biography. He hired two lawyers, and it was only after resigning that he published a column in the Washington post, to explain his approach. If he wishes to give these details, it is to distinguish himself from Julian Assange and Wikileaks. “To raise the alert is not to disclose (to flow), he explains. Too many people tend to confuse these two completely different actions ”. As he wrote in the Post, “I have never disclosed confidential documents, and I never will. I believe in the importance of defense secrecy, an essential element of our national security ”. His approach is very different: “I promised on the Constitution of my country never to reveal secret information, but also to protect this same Constitution. By denouncing Decree 12333, I am only keeping this promise. And I do it by respecting the law, as I invite all whistleblowers to do it ”.

In his role as Chief Disclosure Officer of Whistleblower Aid, he more and more often suggests to his interlocutors to act anonymously, now that it is authorized by American law. “There is no reason why, just because you raise the whistle, you lose your job or whatever.” On the contrary, it recalls the “SEC rewards” (“rewards”) which whistleblowers can claim. “Do you have any information about a violation of US laws?” indicates a dedicated section of its website. You may be able to receive millions of dollars by reporting this information ”. Notice to amateurs.

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