Whistle-blower warns law firms to protect client data; Auckland lawyer suspended

by NZ Lawyer23 Jul 2014
Edward Snowden warns law firms to protect clients’ data
The ‘NSA whistle-blower’ Edward Snowden has urged law firms and other professionals with a duty to protect clients’ data, to encrypt their communications. Snowden, who was based in Japan as part of his work for the American security services, says that unencrypted communications is not safe and that professionals are failing in their obligations to clients if they do not protect data in this way. The UK’s Law Society has said it is concerned by the suggestion that confidential client data may be at risk and would be talking to other professional bodies to work on a collaborative policy. While protection of data from criminals may be relatively simple, the bigger question is whether commercially available encryption methods would be of any use against the capabilities of government agencies.
Lawyer suspended from legal practice
The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has suspended lawyer Boon Hong for a period of 10 months from 25 July, 2014, and has also been censured. Hong, of Auckland, was suspended for wilfully disobeying an order of a standards committee that he attend a Continuing Legal Education course. The tribunal held that this type of offending needs to be marked with a firm response in order that the institutions of professional discipline are not undermined. Law Society National Prosecutions Manager Mark Treleaven says complying with standards committee orders is fundamental to the regulatory requirements of all lawyers: “Members of the public entrust their personal affairs to legal practitioners and are entitled to know that the Law Society will not treat lightly serious breaches of expected standards by a member of the legal profession.” Hong was ordered to pay the Law Society $20,786 for legal costs and reimburse hearing costs.
The ever-changing sectors for law practice
While some parts of a law firm remain relatively stable, in an ever-changing world there are always new areas for legal minds to ponder. A US law firm is among the first to create a new ‘drones’ practice; dedicated to the growing business of unmanned aircraft. Fafinski Mark & Johnson now has a nine-strong team working in the practice and focusing on those who make, buy, sell, lease or insure unmanned aircraft. It may sound highly niche, but with Amazon pushing hard for approval to test deliveries by drones, this is potentially a huge area for law firms. We may have to wait some time though before case papers are delivered in this way, but one day!



  • by Patrick Wilson 23/07/2014 9:40:04 a.m.

    Edward Snowden is commonly referred to in the media as a “whistleblower”. Legal protection for whistleblowers, including in the US, normally requires elements of an existing employee learning of some illicit activity of the employer, raising it with management to no avail and then informing authorities. Edward Snowden meets none of these requirements.

    Edward Snowden was not an employee of the NSA nor of a contractor to the NSA when he met with representatives of WikiLeaks in Hong Kong to conspire with them how to steal information from the NSA. Based on that plan, he gained employment with a contractor and set about the theft, largely by the improper use of legitimate employees’ passwords. He then used that stolen information for gain. His denials are contradictory. He lied on his resume.

    If anyone in New Zealand did the same he would be liable for criminal action, not lauded as a ‘hero’. It seems that for certain people any illicit behaviour is somehow acceptable if it is seen as anti-US. If media accuracy is important (particularly for a legal publication), the use of “whistleblower” should be reserved for those employees who deserve it, not to criminals like Edward Snowden.

  • by Ivan McIntosh 23/07/2014 11:49:53 a.m.

    Patrick Wilson can shoot the messenger as much as he wants, but in my personal opinion it is crucial to individual freedom to know just how much government institutions are circumventing the laws of other nations, and indeed their own, in the pursuit of invasive and indiscriminate spywork. For that alone, Edward Snowden deserves congratulation and safe harbour. I refer Mr Wilson to the prescient words of Benjamin Franklin: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

  • by Hamish 23/07/2014 11:58:53 a.m.

    Dear Mr Wilson

    "If anyone in New Zealand did the same he would be liable for criminal action, not lauded as a ‘hero’. "

    On what basis?

    The world may have changed a little since these thoughts occurred to you. I am sure you have heard of GCSB, litigation relating to Kim Dotcom, and US heavy-handedness and illegalities relating to dealings with NZ authorities.

    It seems that if criticism relates to the US, it must be held to a higher standard. That has not been a feature of NZ law or society. If Mr Snowden was in NZ, he would have the benefit of a legal system not tainted by Guantanamo or such, and would be charged properly, be likely on bail, and have the benefit of a lot of public support. Even our somewhat vain media did a reasonable job of reporting on various indiscretions from the US, to the PM, and this would only have augmented our desire to give Mr Snowden a fair trial.

    The more relevant point here is that lawyers need to be aware of infringements and encroachments increasingly occurring on a global level, and the sacrifices of those involved in uncovering those. Mr Snowden is only one such person, but he deserves credit for his selfless sacrifices. He gave up a $200,000 a year salary. How many would, to uncover the NSA's spying on the public? It is in fact the US people who would be most grateful to him. Here you may have conflated the interests of the unfettered authorities spying on the public, and in the actual public interest itself. Our sympathy must be with the people of the US, and the world, and the likes of Mr Snowden are the few in the front line. I trust this assists in gaining a wider perspective.

    Hamish W