Does the American Bar Association care when China hacks American lawyers?

May 22

When the Justice Department’s indicted six People’s Liberation Army hackers, it directly accused the PLA of stealing “privileged attorney-client communications related to Solar World’s ongoing trade litigation with China.”

This is not a surprise to knowledgeable observers. Chinese attacks on large U.S. law firms have been widely acknowledged, and last summer the American Bar Association condemned “unauthorized, illegal intrusions into the computer systems and networks utilized by lawyers and law firms.” But the ABA flinched from actually mentioning China or the PLA in the resolution, and as far as I can see, ABA President Jim Silkenat has still said nothing about Chinese hacking of US law firms.

Contrast that silence with Silkenat’s rush to demand answers from the NSA about more attenuated allegations.  On February 15 of this year, the New York Times published a Snowden-inspired article claiming that Australia had intercepted an American law firm’s advice to Indonesia on a piece of trade litigation.  The article was full of anti-NSA spin but it made no claim that NSA itself was spying on privileged communications.

Nonetheless, five days after that story appeared, Silkenat sent a two-page letter to the head of NSA.  “Whether or not those press reports are accurate,” Silkenat wrote, he sought the NSA’s director’s support  “in preserving fundamental attorney-client privilege protections for all clients and ensuring that the proper policies and procedures are in place at NSA to prevent the erosion of this important legal principle.”

Fair enough.  But it’s now been three days since we saw a much more direct accusation that the PLA was spying on privileged attorney-client communications in the US.

Who’s taking bets on whether the American Bar Association will be as quick to call out the Chinese government as it was to call out its own?

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