FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, DOJ tussle over his communications
By Michael Liedtke
Federal prosecutors are trying to prohibit FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried from privately contacting current and former employees of the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange to prevent potential witness tampering in a criminal case accusing him of bilking investors and customers.
The request, made in a letter filed late Friday by U.S. Justice Department lawyers, prompted an indignant response from Bankman-Fried’s lawyer, who accused prosecutors of twisting the facts to cast the FTX founder in a sinister light ahead of his trial scheduled later this year.
The testy exchange prompted U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York to issue a Saturday order that included admonishment for the opposing lawyers in the case to refrain from “pejorative characterizations” of each other’s actions and motives.
Bankman-Fried, 30, has been under confinement at his parents’ home in Palo Alto, California, since pleading not guilty earlier this month to charges against him. He is accused of diverting massive sums of FTX customer funds to buy property, donate to politicians and finance risky trades at Alameda Research, his cryptocurrency hedge fund trading firm.
Federal prosecutors raised their concerns about Bankman-Fried’s attempts to connect with potential witnesses in the case after discovering he sent an encrypted message over the Signal texting app on Jan. 15 to the general counsel of FTX US, according to their letter to Kaplan.
“I would really love to reconnect and see if there’s a way for us to have a constructive relationship, use each other as resources when possible, or at least vet things with each other,” Bankman-Fried wrote to the FTX general counsel, dubbed “Witness 1,” in the prosecutors’ letter.
Federal prosecutors told Kaplan that Bankman-Fried’s communications are a sign that he may be trying in influence a witness with incriminating evidence against him. As a safeguard, the prosecutors want Kaplan to revise the conditions of Bankman-Fried’s bail so he can’t communicate with current or former employees of FTX and Alameda Research outside the presence of a lawyer without a waiver from the Justice Department.
But Bankman-Fried’s attorney, Mark Cohen, painted a much different picture in his fiery retort to the prosecutors. Cohen described Bankman-Fried’s effort to reach the FTX general counsel as “an innocuous attempt to offer assistance in FTX’s bankruptcy process.”
In his Saturday order, Kaplan demanded complete copies of Bankman-Fried’s electronic communications to be provided by Monday.
Federal prosecutors also want Kaplan to change the conditions of Bankman-Fried’s bail to prevent him from communicating through Signal, which has an auto-delete option to make messages quickly disappear in addition encryption technology to help shield the contents from outsiders.
“Using Signal to contact potential witnesses increases the likelihood that detection of any attempt to obstruct justice by influencing a witness will itself be obstructed,” the prosecutors told Kaplan.
But Cohen wrote that the message sent to the FTX general counsel didn’t have an auto-delete feature. Cohen also assured the judge that Bankman-Fried has turned off the disappearing messages option in his Signal account.
“The government cannot justify a bail condition based on an unfounded concern about what Mr. Bankman-Fried might do, when there is no evidence that he is, in fact, doing it,” Cohen said.
Before prosecutors asked the judge to impose broad restrictions that would prevent Bankman-Fried from privately communicating with any current or former FTX employees, Cohen said the two sides had already been in negotiations to reach a “reasonable” compromise before prosecutors “sandbagged” the talks with their late Friday letter to Kaplan.
By Cohen’s estimate, FTX and Alameda Research have about 350 current and former employees who would be blocked off from Bankman-Fried by a blanket ban, including some that might have crucial information for his defense during a trial tentatively scheduled to begin in October.
Bankman-Fried was willing to voluntarily agree to a prohibition against him communicating with several top FTX executives in exchange for being allowed to remain in contact with others such as his father, his therapist still employed by the cryptocurrency exchange and a range of other unidentified workers who directly reach out to him.
Kaplan told federal prosecutors to respond to Cohen’s claims in his seven-page letter by Monday.
Why TikTok’s security risks keep raising fears
Security cameras are seen at the TikTok Inc. building in Culver City, Calif., Friday, March 17, 2023. The battle between the U.S. and China over TikTok comes to a head on Thursday when the social media platform’s CEO testifies before Congressional lawmakers. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
By Kelvin Chan And Haleluya Hadero
The battle between the U.S. and China over TikTok comes into full view on Thursday when the social media platform’s CEO testifies before Congressional lawmakers.
Shou Zi Chew’s hearing is happening at what he’s called a “pivotal moment” for the hugely popular short video sharing app. TikTok is owned by parent company ByteDance, which has offices in Beijing. The platform has 150 million American users but it’s been dogged by persistent claims that it threatens national security and user privacy, or could be used to promote pro-Beijing propaganda and misinformation.
Chew will attempt to persuade lawmakers not to pursue a ban on the app or force its sale to new owners.
So are the data security risks real? And should users be worried that the TikTok app will be wiped off their phones?
Here’s what to know:
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS ABOUT TIKTOK?
Both the FBI and officials at the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could share TikTok user data — such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers — with China’s authoritarian government.
Officials fear that TikTok, which like many other social media platforms collects vast amounts of data on its users, would be forced to give it to Beijing under a 2017 law that compels companies to turn over any personal data relevant to China’s national security.
Concerns around TikTok were heightened in December when ByteDance said it fired four employees who accessed data on journalists from Buzzfeed News and The Financial Times while attempting to track down the source of a leaked report about the company.
HOW IS THE U.S. RESPONDING?
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. — known as CFIUS and part of the Treasury Department — is carrying out a review, and has reportedly threatened a U.S. ban on the app unless its Chinese owners divest their stake. China’s Foreign Ministry in turn accused the United States itself of spreading disinformation about TikTok’s potential security risks.
White House officials have said there are “legitimate national security concerns with respect to data integrity.”
Some U.S. senators urged CFIUS last year to quickly wrap up its investigation and “impose strict structural restrictions” between TikTok’s American operations and ByteDance, including potentially separating the companies.
At the same time, lawmakers have introduced measures that would expand the Biden administration’s authority to enact a national ban on TikTok. The White House has already backed a Senate proposal that has bipartisan support.
HOW HAS TIKTOK ALREADY BEEN RESTRICTED?
Authorities in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific have banned the TikTok app, mostly on government-issued phones or devices used for official business, citing cybersecurity concerns. Last week Britain imposed a government phone ban while New Zealand restricted lawmakers and other workers in its Parliament from having it on their phones.
The European Union’s three main institutions, the executive Commission, Parliament and Council, have ordered staffers to remove it from their work phones. So has Denmark’s defense ministry. The Canadian government said its ban includes blocking civil servants from downloading the app in the future. Norway and Netherlands warned this week against installing TikTok on government devices.
The White House ordered U.S. federal agencies to delete TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices. Congress, the U.S. armed forces and more than half of U.S. states had already banned the app.
WHAT DOES TIKTOK SAY?
In a TikTok video this week, Chew appealed against a ban, saying it could take the app away from 150 million American users.
In his testimony, he plans to outline how the company’s data protection and security efforts go “above and beyond” anything that its social media and online entertainment rivals do.
Under a $1.5 billion project dubbed Project Texas that’s underway, data from U.S. users is being routed through servers controlled by Oracle, the Silicon Valley company it partnered with in an effort to avoid a nationwide ban.
Older U.S. user data stored on non-Oracle servers will be deleted this year. Under this arrangement, there’s no way for Beijing to access the data, Chew said in prepared remarks released ahead of the hearing.
TikTok has also sought to portray ByteDance as a global company, not a Chinese one. Executives have been pointing out that ByteDance’s ownership consists of 60% big global investors, 20% employees and 20% Chinese entrepreneurs who founded the company. TikTok itself is headquartered in Singapore.
ARE THE SECURITY RISKS LEGITIMATE?
It depends on who you ask.
Some tech privacy advocates say while the potential abuse of privacy by the Chinese government is concerning, other tech companies have data-harvesting business practices that also exploit user information.
“If policy makers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they should advocate for a basic privacy law that bans all companies from collecting so much sensitive data about us in the first place, rather than engaging in what amounts to xenophobic showboating that does exactly nothing to protect anyone,” said Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future.
Karim Farhat, a researcher with the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech, said a TikTok sale would be “completely irrelevant to any of the alleged ‘national security’ threats” and go against “every free market principle and norm” of the state department’s internet freedom principles.
Others say there is legitimate reason for concern.
People who use TikTok might think they’re not doing anything that would be of interest to a foreign government, but that’s not always the case, said Anton Dahbura, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Important information about the United States is not strictly limited to nuclear power plants or military facilities; it extends to other sectors, such as food processing, the finance industry and universities, Dahbura said.
IS THERE PRECEDENCE FOR BANNING TECH COMPANIES?
The U.S. has banned the communications equipment sold by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, citing national security risks. But banning the sale of items is easier than banning a free app.
Such a move might also wind up in courts on grounds that it could violate the First Amendment, as some civil liberties groups have argued.
Another possibility, albeit remote, is forcing a sale. That’s what happened in 2020 when Beijing Kunlun, a Chinese mobile video game company, agreed to sell gay dating app Grindr after an order from CFIUS.
Beijing Kunlun said it signed a “national security agreement” with CFIUS to sell Grindr to San Vicente Acquisition for $608.5 million, promising not to send sensitive user data to China, cease its operations there and maintain its headquarters in the U.S.
Canada needs 300,000 new rental units to avoid gap quadrupling by 2026: report
An aerial view of houses in Oshawa, Ont. is shown on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. A Royal Bank of Canada report predicts Canada’s rental housing shortage will quadruple to 120,000 units by 2026 without a significant boost in rental stock. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
By Sammy Hudes in Toronto
Canada’s rental housing shortage will quadruple to 120,000 units by 2026 without a significant boost in stock, Royal Bank of Canada said in a report Wednesday.
In order to reach the optimal vacancy rate of three per cent, the report suggested Canada would need to add 332,000 rental units over the next three years, which would mark an annual increase of 20 per cent compared with the 70,000 units built last year.
The research analyzed vacancy rate data released in January by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
Canada’s vacancy rate fell to 1.9 per cent in 2022, its lowest point in 21 years, from 3.1 per cent in 2021.
Competition for units also drove the highest annual increase in rent growth on record, by 5.6 per cent for a two-bedroom unit.
Canada’s rental housing stock grew by 2.4 per cent in 2022, led by Calgary at 7.4 per cent and Ottawa-Gatineau at 5.5 per cent, while Toronto and Montreal saw the smallest percentage increases at 2.1 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.
“We haven’t seen that many additions to the purpose-built inventory in almost a decade, so you would think that added supply of units would ease some of the competition, but what the CMHC rental market data revealed to us was that it didn’t,” said RBC economist Rachel Battaglia.
Slow growth in Canada’s two most populous cities has been outpaced by rapidly increasing demand, partly fuelled by high immigration levels, she said. Annual federal immigration targets are set to grow eight per cent by 2025, meaning demand is unlikely to let up.
Battaglia also pointed to affordability and behavioural preferences for the influx of rentals sought. She said more Canadians are choosing to live alone, meaning fewer incomes per household.
“You have a lot of people being funnelled into the rental market who maybe would have liked to own something but it’s just not financially in the books for them right now,” said Battaglia.
The report estimated an existing deficit of 25,000 to 30,000 units of rental stock across Canada. In addition to building more supply, it recommended turning condo units into rentals, converting commercial buildings and adding rental suites to existing homes to help ease the pressure.
Without such measures, Battaglia said the market could “become infinitely more competitive.”
“Which is not something that we want to realize given the competition we’re already seeing,” she said.
“You’re already seeing rents increase dramatically.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2023.
Father-to-be and ‘snow angel’: Edmonton officers shot and killed on duty remembered
Following feedback Alberta Education to release new curriculum this fall
‘Unthinkable and horrific:’ 2 Edmonton officers fatally shot, source says suspect 16
Janmark scores twice as Edmonton Oilers skate past Dallas Stars 4-1
Dr. John Campbell – The man who explained the pandemic to millions
Italian novelist: Leonardo’s da Vinci’s mother was a slave
What’s the next step for Black reparations in San Francisco?
Brownstone Institute2 days ago
Eye Protection Wasn’t Misdirection
Health1 day ago
Ottawa to spend $1.5 billion to improve access to drugs for rare diseases
Top Story CP1 day ago
Canada extends emergency visa applications for Ukrainians fleeing war until July
Alberta1 day ago
Hearings begin before Supreme Court on federal environmental impact assessment law
Automotive1 day ago
GM to stop making the Camaro but a successor may be in works
Alberta4 hours ago
$3.6 million in meth seized by Border Enforcement Team at Courts crossing
International1 day ago
Take hard line on Canada’s digital tax, online laws, tech associations urge Biden
Alberta1 day ago
Anholt tabbed to lead Canada’s world junior squad after success with U18 team