Who is Silicon Valley whistleblower lawyer John Napier Tye?

If whistleblowers are multiplying in Silicon Valley, it is thanks to personalities like John Tye, Frances Haugen’s lawyer. 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 behind the recent Facebook Files scandal. But he has represented many other whistleblowers, such as the anonymous Ukrainian whistleblower who provoked President Trump’s first impeachment, or the journalist from New Yorker at the origin of the Weinstein business, Epstein but also Gina Haspel (the former director of the CIA). Short, Jean Napier Tye is a heavyweight 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 Order 12333, problematic as the PRISM program denounced by Edward Snowden. But despite these impressive feats of glory, Jean Napier Tye remains first and foremost a man in the shadows. Not inclined to confide, 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 helping whistleblowers

“I would like to talk about Whistleblower Aid first,” he says. This NGO that he created in 2017 with lawyer Mark S. Zaid “defends whistleblowers of all types, and of all nationalities, relying on a team of specialized lawyers”. Every day, he and his colleagues receive secure phone calls or 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 an upcoming article), it is distinguished by the free to all its customers (see here). The NGO is financed by donations, patronage, crowdfunding.

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

As a result, Whistleblower Aid is there for those who find themselves fired and sidelined by their industry following their revelations, and can no longer rely on themselves. The NGO offers to house 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 more difficult than our previous efforts against political actors such as Donald Trump,” he said. recently at the Financial Times. In fact, his usual donors work in one way or another with the behemoths of the GAFAM with which his NGO has more and more business… It is hardly surprising that they hesitate to embark on such operations. , or that in any case they do not appear on its website.

After the Facebook Files affair, Silicon Valley grapples 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 emulators, prompting more and more employees to come out of the woodwork to testify to such serious facts in other companies among the most prestigious, the best listed on the stock exchange. Tongues are loosened at Meta, Instagram, Amazon, Pinterest and others, whose misdeeds make headlines almost every week, so much so that some CEOs have to answer for their actions before the Senate. Tye is behind a significant number of these cases. Who is this man who strives tirelessly to defend those who dare to tell the truth, without benefiting from it?

John Napier Tye was born in 1976, in a suburb of Boston. Passionate about science since childhood, he studied complex systems and computer science at Duke University, social sciences at Oxford thanks to a Rhodes Scholarship, then law at Yale, where he passed his bar in 2007 and became a doctor. 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 policy of carbon neutrality. The institution is committed to offsetting the carbon footprint of the travel of its students and teaching staff by investing in renewable energies. Was it this initiative or his commitment to defend 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 of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor”, his mission is to promote, in the four corners of the world and in the name of the United States, the values ​​that were at the origins 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) monitors the entire planet and its inhabitants, he is at the heart of the response that the government for which he works tries to organize. The crisis meetings are linked, it is a question of giving arguments to the White House, counter-attacking 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. An unknown program, set up by Ronald Reagan at the end of the Cold War, Executive Order 12333, indeed allows the American government to spy on whoever it wants, as long as this person is not on American soil. “Which has no longer made much sense since the invention of the Internet, specifies John, since the data of everyone, wherever they are and whatever their nationality, are now stored on giga-servers spread across the four corners of the globe. However, if President Barack Obama announced in his 2014 speech a certain number of actions supposed to put an end to the abuses and misdeeds of the PRISM program (at least in appearance), he “forgot” to mention the existence of the Executive Order 12333. “I believed that my government, faced with the scandal, would take the necessary measures, he smiles today. I was naive”. Tye informs his hierarchical superiors, he asks to meet the director of the NSA, then members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In vain: nothing moves, the decree of law is not questioned. He then lodged a complaint with the Inspector General of the State Department: Executive Order 12333 constitutes, he argues, a “violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution”.

“Mr. Tye did not contact Wikileaks,” says his biography. He hired two lawyers, and it was only after resigning that he published a column in the Washington Postto explain his approach. If he wants to give these details, it is to distinguish himself from Julian Assange and Wikileaks. “Whistleblowing is not disclosing (to flow), he says. Too many people tend to confuse these two completely different actions.” As he writes in the Post: “I have never revealed confidential documents, and I never will. I believe in the importance of defense secrecy, an essential element of our national security”. His own 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 Executive Order 12333, I am only fulfilling this promise. And I do so while respecting the law, as I invite all whistleblowers to do”.

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

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