matter that you exposed wrongdoing and struck a blow for fair
elections. The larger good isn't always obvious to the powers that be.
So Steve Heller, a Los Angeles-based actor whose day job is doing
temporary office work, faces three felony charges, all of which are a
stretch: felony access to computer data, commercial burglary and
receiving stolen property. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's
office says he's a thief, an Internet criminal, and that's that. And,
oh yeah, he violated attorney-client confidentiality, and cost a big
law firm a million dollars in lost business.
Serious stuff. And if the DA's office has its way, this is all the
judge and jury will look at: the law in its narrowest sense, as though
ethical issues aren't sometimes murky and enormously complicated.
Indeed, this is the story of a 44-year-old man who had a problem in
practical ethics fall into his lap a little over two years ago, when
he was temping in the word-processing center of Jones Day, a major Los
Angeles law firm. Among the firm's clients was Diebold Election
Systems, the largest manufacturer of electronic voting machines and
voting machine software in the U.S. - and probably the most
Diebold machines are notoriously hackable and unreliable, and the
company itself is as secretive as it is politically connected. The
company is in the forefront of the spread of unverifiable ("trust us")
electronic voting across the country, a phenomenon that many computer
experts and fair-election advocates find utterly terrifying.
"In connection with his duties on Jan. 29, 2004, suspect Heller was
given an assignment to work on a Jones Day document regarding Diebold
voting machines," Heller's arrest warrant attests. "After completing
that assignment, suspect Heller, without authorization, accessed and
printed 107 Jones Day documents concerning
their representation of Diebold."
What the arrest warrant leaves out is that, in 2004, Diebold machines
were going to be used in a number of California counties in the March
primary and the November general elections, and the machines'
questionable reliability was in the news a lot. And indeed, Diebold
machines did malfunction in the March elections. But they didn't
malfunction in November because by then they had been decertified by
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley - thanks in large part to
The documents Heller, the temp word processor, happened upon and
subsequently printed out revealed a potential crime in progress.
Here's where the ethics become urgent. He could either ignore what he
saw or, at considerable personal risk and with nothing to gain except
clarity of conscience, take action. He took action.
He gave the documents to election-reform advocates, who got them into
the hands of the media and state officials. Because he did, data
concerning Diebold's use of uncertified software, which was supposed
to remain private, became public knowledge. "In one memo," the Los
Angeles Weekly wrote, "the law firm warned Diebold, before the March
primary, that its use of uncertified vote-counting software in Alameda
County, starting in 2002, violated California election law and broke
its $12.7 million contract."
And election-reform advocate Peter Soby wrote on Huffington Post: "So
in a nutshell, Diebold was defrauding the state government and
taxpayers of California, and disenfranchising the voters of
California. And the documents prove it."
More can be found at: http://www.hellerlegaldefensefund.com/