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Secrecy surrounds 25m Barclaycard blackmail case
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2001 03:19:54 -0500 (CDT)


Michael Gillard 
October 19, 2001

Fear of information leaking about the computer security system
protecting Britain's 8m Barclaycard holders has led to unprecedented
secrecy in a 25m alleged blackmail case.

Two court hearings have already taken place in camera.

The draconian measure of holding criminal proceedings behind closed
doors is usually only reserved for espionage or intelligence-related
cases involving national security, and then normally only over a few
sensitive parts of the evidence.

Lawyers cannot recall the procedure being used before in cases
involving commercial secrets or blackmail threats against companies.

The procedure for conducting the full trial, due to begin at the end
of this month at the Old Bailey, is not yet known. If it is held in
camera, there are likely to be objections from those concerned about
maintaining the long-established British principle of open justice.

Graham Browne, a former encryption expert at Barclays, the bank which
owns Barclaycard, denies the charge that he made an unwarranted demand
for 25m to be paid to 14 named individuals by Barclays.

Press and the public were barred from a preliminary hearing at City of
London magistrates last October following discussions of the issue
with counsel for Barclays, the owner of Europe's largest credit card
system, and with the crown prosecution service.

The bank's concerns are understandable: disclosure in open court of
highly sensitive information about their operations might necessitate
replacing all the millions of Barclaycards held worldwide.

A spokesman for Barclays told the Guardian yesterday: "This case is
still before the court so it is inappropriate to say anything. But I
can assure you that customers can use their cards and accounts with

Banks are highly sensitive to any publicity about alleged or potential
security weaknesses which might make customers concerned that personal
financial data is vulnerable to access by computer "hackers".

Courts will sometimes make an order granting anonymity to individual
witnesses who claim to have been blackmail targets. This is used to
encourage them to come forward since otherwise they might fear that
dis cussion of the complaint in open court would achieve the
blackmailer's object.

But no such order has been made in this case. The provision has not
normally applied to business corporations. In high-profile cases
involving extortion demands on companies, previous victims such as
supermarkets, stores, food companies and banks - including Harrods,
Sainsbury's and Barclays - have been identified in court.

One possible procedure the Old Bailey might adopt at the trial is to
blue-pencil sensitive technical parts of the evidence concerning
computer systems. Material about computer keys or codes could be heard
in camera or be removed from documents used in evidence

Mr Browne, 57, lives in a village near Crewe. He was arrested
following an investigation by the City of London police. He has
pleaded not guilty and denies any intention to blackmail his former
employers. He worked at one of the computer centres for the
Barclaycard operation at Radbroke Hall near Chester. He resigned from
his post running the encryption unit early last year.

At Mr Browne's first appearance before City of London magistrates in
October last year, the proceedings were not held in camera, but his
second court appearance was.

It is understood the procedural issues faced by the courts in going
ahead with the case are so difficult that discussions were held with
the then attorney general, Lord Williams.

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