Police Crackdown On P&G Leaks Broader Than Believed, Publisher Says
CINCINNATI (AP) _ A police probe into news leaks about the Procter & Gamble Co. is much larger than previously believed, the company that publishes The Wall Street Journal said Wednesday.
P&G had asked police to investigate for possible violations of the state’s law against revealing trade secrets after a series of leaked stories to publications, including the Journal, the nation’s biggest newspaper.
The Dow Jones & Co. news service said that Cincinnati Bell, at the request of police, searched 655,297 home and business telephone lines and nearly 40 million calls made in a 10-week time period.
Dow Jones, which also publishes The Wall Street Journal, said the area covered nearly 2,400 square miles in all or parts of four southern Ohio counties.
Police, as part of the inquiry, used a grand-jury subpeona to obtain the telephone records. Dow Jones said that the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court ordered Cincinnati Bell to identify ″all 513 area code numbers″ that dialed the office and home phone number of Wall Street Journal reporter Alecia Swasy between March 1 and June 15.
The order was given in a subpoena issued by the court June 17, Dow Jones said.
P&G has previously said it was interested in probing employees who might be involved in alleged disclosures of company secrets. The Dow Jones report said the subpeona was issued just four working days after a June 10 article in The Wall Street Journal disclosing the resignation of the company’s troubled food and beverage division.
Hamilton County and Cincinnati law enforcement officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. But several attorneys specializing in First Amendment issues said the broad scope of the subpoena has troubling implications regarding invasion of privacy.
″There’s no reason for the subpoena to be this broad. It’s cause for alarm,″ said Robert Newman, a Cincinnati attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues. ″P&G doesn’t have to intrude in the lives of P&G employees, let alone everyone else.″
Jim Rogers, regional coordinator of Cincinnati’s American Civil Liberties Union Office, agreed.
″The subpoena is invasive for anyone in the 513 area code. If I called (The Wall Street Journal), what possible interest should P&G have in that?″
Also Wednesday, P&G said that the police investigation was nearly complete and no charges were expected.
The investigation started after The Wall Street Journal published stories last June saying the head of P&G’s food division had resigned under pressure and that some brands might be sold. The company went to police after its own investigation failed to turn up evidence.
Journalists saw the crackdown as a means of skirting Ohio’s shield law that protects reporters from having to reveal sources. Police have obtained telephone records that would reveal calls made to reporters.
″I’m just so tired of this stuff,″ said Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, based in Washington. ″It’s a classic example of ignoring the First Amendment considerations because of the tunnel vision a company or the government has. It offends me profoundly.″
The company said the probe was not intended to stifle employees but to protect trade secrets.
The company has declined to say what trade secrets might have been revealed. Ohio law provides that employees may be punished for divulging ″confidential″ company information; maximum punishment is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.