New letter: Top Uber officials engaged in illegal wiretapping, shady spycraft

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The highly-anticipated demand letter written on behalf of a former Uber employee, which has become central to the unfolding drama that is the Waymo v. Uber trade secrets lawsuit, was publicly released on Friday afternoon.

As previewed in earlier court hearings, the “Jacobs Letter” outlines in detailed terms the questionable and possibly illegal behavior that former Uber security official Richard Jacobs and his former colleagues engaged in during his 11-month tenure at the company.

This letter, which was only recently shared with lawyers involved in the lawsuit and the judge overseeing the case, ultimately led to federal prosecutors opening a criminal investigation into Uber, which is still ongoing.

Waymo v. Uber began back in February, when Waymo sued Uber and accused one of its own former employees of stealing 14,000 files shortly before he left Waymo. The former employee, Anthony Levandowski, went on to found a company that was quickly acquired by Uber. Levandowski refused to comply with his employer’s demands during the course of this case and has since been fired. Uber has denied that it benefited in any way from Levandowski’s actions.

The outcome of the case will likely determine which company will end up ahead in the cutthroat and rapidly-growing autonomous vehicle sector.

Among other explosive claims, the Jacobs Letter specifically says that two named high-level Uber employees, including Craig Clark, a since-fired Uber lawyer and Mat Henley, who still works at Uber and recently testified in court, orchestrated this scheme.

The men “led Uber’s efforts to evade current and future discovery requests, court orders, and government investigations in violation of state and federal law as well as ethical rules governing the legal profession. Clark devised training and provided advice intended to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation of several ongoing lawsuits against Uber and in relation to or contemplation of further matters within the jurisdiction of the United States.”

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The letter also contains detailed allegations of abuse of the attorney-client privilege. At one point Clark allegedly ordered that “double secret A/C priv” (short for “double-secret attorney-client privilege”) be written on a document as a way to shield it from being disclosed in ongoing or future lawsuits.

This, as many lawyers on Twitter noted, is not a real legal term.

In addition, the Jacobs letter describes what it calls “illegal wiretapping” of a phone call discussing an internal report of sexual harassment. Earlier this year, Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, came forward with her experience of such abuse, which ultimately lead to the ouster of then-CEO Travis Kalanick.

Another section of the letter describes the use of a “new technical capability” by “CIA-trained case officers” that Uber contracted with. In 2016, these people allegedly “collected mobile-phone metadata either directly through signal-intercept equipment, hacked mobile devices, or through the mobile network itself. The information eventually shared with Jacobs and others included call logs, with time and date of communications, communicants’ phone numbers, call durations, and the identification of the mobile phone subscribers. The subsequent link-analysis of this metadata occurred on U.S. soil.”

The 37-page demand letter, which was filed by a Minnesota attorney on Jacobs’ behalf, was essentially a warning that Jacobs may sue the company.

Rather than go to court over his claims, Uber ended up paying Jacobs $4.5 million, and his lawyer, Clayton Halunen, $3 million.

In a recent court hearing, Angela Padilla, Uber’s deputy general counsel, testified that this letter was “extortionate,” but noted that going to court would have cost the company far more. (Halunen has not responded to Ars’ request for comment.)

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In another court filing submitted on Friday, outside court-appointed advisor Special Master John Cooper determined that this Jacobs Letter should have been made available to Waymo much earlier as part of the civil discovery process.

The revelation of the letter’s existence, which only became known late last month, resulted in the trial being postponed a second time.

The trial is now scheduled for early February 2018 in San Francisco, just blocks from Uber headquarters at 1455 Market St.


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