Chevron Criticized for Prying Into Emails of People Working On Ecuador Case, Says Amazon Defense Coalition

Oct 24, 2012, 12:50 ET from Amazon Defense Coalition

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The nation's leading online privacy organization is accusing Chevron of violating the First Amendment and trying to intimidate its critics by prying into the private email accounts of 71 individuals connected to the Amazon villagers who recently won a historic $19 billion judgment against the oil giant.


In a brief filed this week in federal court in San Francisco, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said Chevron's subpoenas to Google and other internet service providers are "staggering" in their overbreadth, violate personal privacy, and have engendered fear for the personal safety of those aware of the oil giant's campaign of intimidation against lawyers and their allies who won the judgment.

The brief argued that Chevron's request for information should be denied because it was nothing more than a "fishing expedition" for information that would allow it "to create a comprehensive and detailed map of each person's movements over a nine-year period."

"This information would allow Chevron a virtual itinerary of who each individual has met with, what buildings they worked out of, what organizations they have worked with, and other potentially sensitive information implicating associational freedoms, which are protected by the First Amendment," the EFF argued in its motion.

The information sought would allow Chevron access to "intimate" details about the personal relationships of those involved in the case, including the homes where they slept overnight.

Those being targeted by Chevron include journalists, bloggers, former summer interns who worked on the case, and spouses of lawyers who represent the Ecuadorians, said Karen Hinton, the U.S. representative for the Amazon communities who last year won the lawsuit against the oil giant.  In all, Chevron asked Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo for nine years of information about 101 email addresses.

The San Francisco-based EFF, known worldwide as a leading Internet privacy organization, was joined in the motion by the environmental legal organization Earth Rights International.  The groups represent dozens of individuals – many of them anonymous – who own email accounts that were used to communicate with lawyers or other people directly involved in the long-running case, which in 2011 resulted in the largest judgment ever in an environmental case.

After an eight-year trial, an Ecuador court found in February 2011 that Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into rivers used by indigenous groups for their drinking water, and abandoned hundreds of open-air toxic waste pits gouged out of the jungle floor.  Locals describe the area as the "Amazon Chernobyl."   A video on the case can be seen here; a written summary here; and a 60 Minutes segment here.

The Ecuador court found evidence that five indigenous groups in the area of rainforest where Chevron operated from 1964 to 1992 – the Cofan, Secoya, Siona, Huarani, and Quichua -- have seen their cultures decimated by Chevron's pollution.   A prominent U.S. academic predicted that thousands of people in the area will contract cancer in the coming decades.

Chevron has a history using unethical tactics to intimidate those who criticize its misconduct in Ecuador, according to the brief.

A California court already sanctioned and fined Chevron for suing a former attorney for the Ecuadorians in an effort to chill his First Amendment right to criticize the company, in violation of the state's anti-SLAPP statute. Chevron and its outside law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher also have demonstrated a pattern of unethical and harassing conduct as found by courts in Ecuador and the U.S.  See here and here.

Kevin Jon Heller, an Australian law professor and blogger whose email address was targeted by Chevron wrote that he felt "shock" and "anger" to learn of the subpoena.  He described it as an effort to "intimidate" him into silence.

Several other individuals submitted written declarations with the EFF motion saying they feared for their personal safety based on Chevron's long history of engaging in corporate espionage against the lawyers for the Ecuadorians, including against their longtime U.S. counsel, Steven Donziger. Several members of the legal team in Ecuador have been subjected to anonymous death threats, leading to a protective action being ordered by the Organization of American States. One person who owns one of the email addresses targeted submitted a sworn declaration that said, "I already turned down a job offer to work on the Chevron litigation after seeing what Chevron had put others through who worked on the litigation and related activism."

Another account holder, an environmental advocate who works with the affected indigenous communities in Ecuador, wrote: "I am particularly concerned about my personal safety and that of my family.  I am based in Ecuador, which has a poor human rights record, and a long history of threats, intimidation, robberies and abuses against the affected communities and those that support them.

"I fear that Chevron would use this information and of my whereabouts to harass or intimidate me, or even pass it along to third parties that operate in the region that could do the same or worse," the declarant testified.

EFF argued in its brief that the real purpose of the Chevron subpoenas "is to harass and intimidate the activists, interns, young lawyers, volunteers, and journalists, both in the United States and around the world, who have shown some sympathy for or supported the Ecuadoran plaintiffs who have sought judicial recourse against Chevron."

Chevron has suffered a series of devastating courtroom setbacks in the case over the last two years. Not only has the company lost the biggest environmental case in history, but the U.S. Supreme Court recently denied its attempt to seek an injunction blocking seizure actions targeting billions of dollars in company assets.

Chevron also has been accused of extensive corruption in Ecuador, including trying to intimidate judges and bribe government officials to quash the case. Donziger himself has sued Chevron in New York, claiming the company used illegal tactics to intimidate him and his clients into abandoning the case.

SOURCE Amazon Defense Coalition