Has Rupert O’Dwyer Admitted to Hacking PRSA Conference Calls?

Has Rupert O'Dwyer Admitted to Hacking PRSA Conference Calls?

As a follow-up to my previous entry, today’s blog post from Jack O’Dwyer (“PRSA Stonewall Battered by Facts“) appears to drop a bombshell in the form of a possible admission that his organization did indeed access the conference calls of the Public Relations Society of America without permission (a timely reveal given the News Corp phone hacking scandal currently unfolding in the UK).

In it, he provides specific details about the teleconferences themselves (including timing and participation).  Here’s a sample:

[…] Participation Is Scant

A hallmark of the conferences is the low rate of participation and the near absence of questions. When questions are asked, they are not apt to be answered.  “Leaders” and staff monopolize the mike just like they do at the annual Assembly. Only two questions were asked at the end of an hour-long call May 22, 2007 (link, sub req’d). […] 

I’m fascinated by this not just because it involves PRSA and the Delegation (of which I’ve been a member for the past two years), but because it presents an interesting legal case that illustrates the bizarre, arcane and twisted way telecommunications laws work.

I had thought New York was one of the 11 states that have “two party consent” laws, but it’s not.  However, that doesn’t mean O’Dwyer is safe from PRSA taking legal action against him.  Here are some of the scenarios that could play out if PRSA decides to pursue a case against O’Dwyer (granted, I’m not a lawyer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night):

Scenario 1 – “The Departed”

Unless you’re in a state with a two-party consent law, intercepting a phone call when you have the permission of one of the parties to the call isn’t necessarily illegal.   This may be relevant because it seems likely a disgruntled (and cowardly) PRSA member who doesn’t like how things are going in the organization who is having O’Dwyer carry their water for them.

If this is the case, PRSA could technically take O’Dwyer to court and force him under subpoena to provide the name of the person (ie “the mole”) who gave him consent to listen in on their end of the teleconference.

At the very least, it would be fun to watch O’Dwyer try to demonstrate how he qualifies as a “journalist” deserving of witness shield protections.

Scenario 2 – “O’Dwyer the H4XX0R”

PRSA Assembly Teleconferences require entering a code number to gain access.  Phones (particularly the VOIP phones that are now widely in use) are basically computers and generally fall under the laws governing computers.  As David Kernell (the student who guessed Sarah Palin’s security question details and gained access to her Yahoo email account) found out, accessing a computer without permission is a crime.  In New York (where both O’Dwyers and PRSA are headquartered), computer trespass is a Class E felony.

§ 156.10 Computer trespass.
A person is guilty of computer trespass when he knowingly uses or causes to be used a computer or computer service without authorization and:

  1. he does so with an intent to commit or attempt to commit or further the commission of any felony; or 
  2. he thereby knowingly gains access to computer material.

Scenario 3 – “The Full ‘J. Edgar Hoover'”

Depending on where the conference call provider used by PRSA is headquartered, the communication could have crossed state lines.  That makes it a crime at the federal level.  They currently use Conference Calls Unlimited, which lists its headquarters as being Iowa.  HOWEVER, even if the company is headquartered in Iowa, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their servers are – so if the servers are back in New York that would mean the activity technically didn’t cross state lines.

In all liklihood nothing will come of any of this, but it’s interesting to mull the possibilities and how they may apply to one’s own organization.

By the way – O’Dwyer has now taken to dropping the “A” from “PRSA” in his blog because he believes the organization is un-American.  Hopefully that’s something serious observers of this hubbub take into account when determining how much credibility to grant the man.  He’d be better served taking up his gripes against PRSA on the playground where this sort of unserious scandal-mongering belongs.

More: FCC Guide to Recording Phone Conversations

5 thoughts on “Has Rupert O’Dwyer Admitted to Hacking PRSA Conference Calls?

  1. Arthur Yann, APR says:

    Derek, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it’s salient that Mr. O’Dwyer has not denied listening to PRSA’s teleconferences without the Society’s prior knowledge or consent. It’s also interesting to watch the way in which he has attempted to justify these sleezy actions.

    Step 1: Play the victim. The allegations of hacking, Mr. O’Dwyer said, “are not fair questions at all.”

    Step 2: Makes excuses. “All those [private member] teleconferences should be open to the press,” said Mr. O’Dwyer, adding that “There should be no teleconferences.”

    Step 3: Triangulate. “[If] members send those documents to me,” Mr. O’Dwyer asks, “Is that hacking?” No, THAT is not hacking (and a handful of PRSA members do leak private PRSA correspondence to Mr. O’Dwyer), but accessing our teleconferences without our permission IS hacking. Two different things.

    Step 4: Change the subject. In the last four days, Mr. O’Dwyer has repeated his false and defamatory screed about PRSA even more often than usual, in an attempt to deflect the criticisms being widely levied him.

    Regarding § 156.10 Computer Trespass, you and the readers of your blog may also find this interesting: Monitoring tools used to track visitors to PRSA’s website determined that a computer with an IP address registered to the J.R. O’Dwyer Company made 11 unauthorized attempts to access the password-protected, members-only area of our website between March 4 and April 3, 2008.

    Let’s see him explain that.


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