May 29, 2020

Precautions at New York Post as Tabloid Inquiry Expands

An e-mail to Post journalists on Friday afternoon said News Corporation lawyers had ordered them not to discard anything that relates to any unauthorized access of personal data or payments to government officials.

The directive was the clearest sign yet that the company’s lawyers believe the scope of two early-stage investigations in the United States — one into whether journalists working for the company sought access to phone records of 9/11 victims and another into whether payments to the British police by News Corporation employees violated American law — could broaden.

News Corporation officials did not comment on the matter. But the notice raised the possibility that the firm either has received a subpoena for such documents, or has been notified by prosecutors that a subpoena is coming, legal specialists said.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that such a subpoena was being drafted, and it has been anticipated since July 15, when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. acknowledged that the Justice Department had opened an investigation into whether American laws were violated.

The notice appears to be limited to The Post. The Wall Street Journal, which News Corporation purchased in 2007, did not receive similar instructions.

The Post’s editor, Col Allan, told employees that the instructions were being made out of an abundance of caution, not because any illegal acts had been uncovered at The Post.

“As we watched the news in the U.K. over the last few weeks, we knew that as a News Corporation tabloid, we would be looked at more closely. So this is not unexpected,” he wrote. “I am sorry for any inconvenience.”

Officials familiar with the investigation, who declined to be identified discussing department inquiries, said that the Justice Department’s criminal division is examining whether any of the suspected bribes in Britain made by reporters from News Corporation tabloids violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, while the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York is examining whether there were any voice mail intrusions on United States soil.

The Justice Department has declined to comment about the status of the proposed subpoena. Under department rules, such a move would have to be personally approved by Mr. Holder because of the delicacy involved in demanding information about news-gathering from a press outlet, which is protected by the First Amendment.

The American investigation faces steep hurdles, including a five-year statute of limitations for bringing charges. The dates of the suspected abuses remain unclear.

Officials familiar with the British investigation have said that there is evidence suggesting that News Corporation reporters may have paid £130,000 to law enforcement officers over a four- to five-year period, and Scotland Yard raided the office of News Corporation’s News of the World newspaper in August 2006 in connection with the allegations. If that raid brought a halt to any illegal activities, then the statute of limitations in the United States may be about to expire.

Legal specialists said, however, that prosecutors may have asked a court to stop the clock on the statute of limitations on the grounds that investigators have asked for assistance from Scotland Yard. If so, then offenses from July 2006 could be prosecuted later.

Tracy Schmaler, a department spokeswoman, said she could not comment about a continuing investigation.

Jeremy W. Peters reported from New York, and Charlie Savage from Washington.

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British Police Make Arrest in Net Attacks

The British police announced the arrest on Wednesday of a 19-year-old man who they said was the spokesman of the online vigilante group Lulz Security, which has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on the Web sites of government agencies and private corporations.

In a statement, the police said the man used the online alias Topiary and had been picked up during a raid on a residence in the Shetland Islands, the rugged archipelago off the northeastern coast of Scotland. The police said they were also questioning a 17-year-old but had not arrested him.

On Twitter, Topiary described himself as a “simple prankster turned swank garden hedge.” His missives were often facetious, suggesting the handiwork of someone who relished playful language.

Lulz Security, the offshoot of a larger and more amorphous hacker group called Anonymous, has said it was responsible for attacks on the sites of PBS, the Senate, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and a company associated with the F.B.I.

The most recent post on Topiary’s Twitter feed is dated July 21, two days after law enforcement authorities announced the arrests of more than a dozen people in the United States, Britain and the Netherlands, who were accused of participating in online attacks at the instigation of Anonymous. “You cannot arrest an idea,” Topiary wrote.

In the United States, 14 men and women, mostly in their 20s, were charged in connection with an online attack last December against PayPal, after the online payment company stopped taking donations for WikiLeaks.

On Wednesday, in response to those arrests, Anonymous called on supporters to cancel their PayPal accounts. Shares in PayPal’s parent company, eBay, dropped 3 percent, in line with declines in other tech stocks.

A PayPal spokesman, Anuj Nayar, denied that any significant number of PayPal users had canceled their accounts in response to the call for a boycott. “We haven’t seen any changes to our normal operations, including account opening and closing,” Mr. Nayar said.

The attack on PayPal’s site last December slowed down the company’s system, but to such a small extent that it would have been imperceptible to customers, he said. At no point, Mr. Nayar said, was the Web site shut down.

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