Sparks fly over FTC whistleblower

The chairman and top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee squared off on Thursday over whether to provide immunity for a potential whistleblower.  

According to committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), former Tiversa employee Richard Wallace is a whistleblower who has exposed details about the cybersecurity company’s attempts to shake down firms for contracts or report them to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Democrats on the committee, he said in a hearing on Thursday, have been “too afraid” to even listen to Wallace's case for immunity.

But ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who noted that Wallace has a criminal history, claimed the information has not yet been corroborated.

“Generally, I believe the committee should grant immunity to witnesses who have admitted to engaging in criminal conduct only in rare circumstances when those witnesses provide concrete evidence of criminal activities by others,” he said. “Although we remain open to considering immunity should additional evidence emerge, we cannot responsibly support immunity at this time.”

Wallace has offered to provide testimony about an ongoing battle between the FTC and LabMD, a cancer screening company that the FTC has charged did not do enough to protect people’s information.

Critics of the FTC's action say Tiversa found vulnerabilities in LabMD’s data security in 2008, brought evidence to the company and offered its services to fix the problem. When LabMD refused, Tiversa brought its data to the FTC. 

Additional information from Wallace, however, might prove that the Tiversa information was not accurate. 

"If the assertion that he made are true, the FTC has been misled and this committee has been misled on multiple occasions," Issa said.

— Updated at 12:22 p.m. to clarify Cummings's characterization of Wallace.