Whistleblower 'Neo' has sentence upheld

The Supreme Court on October 27 upheld Riga Regional Court’s January 17 ruling sentencing Ilmars Poikans, Latvia's most famous whistleblower, to 60 hours of community service, the court’s representative Baiba Kataja told the LETA newswire.

Back in 2009 IT expert Poikans accessed the Latvian State Revenue Service's electronic data by using what he said was a simple security flaw, and showed that despite the financial and economic crisis in the country, there had been little tightening of belts among many prominent figures.

He leaked selected information to the press, using the nickname Neo, but was caught and charged with illegal downloading and disclosure of commercial and personal data.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling that the Electronic Declaration System of the State Revenue Service can be legally accessed only by authorized users who have concluded an agreement with the Revenue Service as the system’s manager. The agreement contains access terms that are binding to the system’s users. A person who accessed the system without the necessary authorization uses its resources in an unlawful way.

The court indicated that Poikans hacked into the Electronic Declaration System without the required authentication and identification to obtain classified information containing commercial secrets, like bank client data, addresses and salary information.

The Supreme Court said that accessing commercial secrets in an unlawful way has to be separated from informing the public about topical issues during times of crisis.

The Supreme Court’s ruling cannot be further appealed.

As previously reported, on January 17, Riga Regional Court overruled a decision of the court of first instance that cleared Poikans of the charges of stealing trade secrets and found him guilty of the charges and gave him 60 hours of community service.

The case against Poikans was brought by ABLV bank and vigorously pursued despite widespread public approval of his actions, for which he even won a European award.

During the first hearing of the appellate claim on November 2, 2015, Riga Regional Court overruled the decision of the court of first instance and acquitted Poikans of the charges of unlawful use of personal data but found him guilty on the charges of stealing trade secrets and gave him 100 hours of community service.

In September 2016 the Latvian Supreme Court lifted the Riga Regional Court's guilty verdict on the charges of stealing trade secrets and ordered a repeated trial at the appellate court. The Supreme Court upheld the Riga Regional Court's decision in the part where Poikans was acquitted of unlawful use of personal data that had caused significant damage.

According to the charges, in July 2009 Poikans found a security hole in the electronic tax return filing system of the State Revenue Service. Between October 2009 and February 2010, he downloaded over 7 million electronic documents about individuals and legal entities, including a bank, hence the charges about stealing trade secrets.

The case has in part contributed to the drafting of new whistleblower protection laws which aims to encourage whistleblowing in the public interest and may help prevent the persecution of individuals and prosecution of similar cases in future. 

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