News Groups Didn’t Defame Software Engineer

     PHOENIX (CN) — A federal judge ruled that ProPublica and the Center for Investigative Reporting did not defame the founder of a security software business by claiming the business’s “technical capabilities were lacking.”
     Steven Greschner, founder of Hummingbird Defense Systems, sued the two investigative news outlets in 2014 after they published an article about a potential data breach at the Arizona Counterterrorism and Information Center. Hummingbird used facial recognition software to help law enforcement agencies and school districts in Arizona.
     The article reported that a computer programmer for Hummingbird left Arizona for Beijing in 2007 with laptops, cell phones, hard drives and source code used by the counterterrorism center. The programmer, Lizhong Fan, was hired after Greschner’s wife recommended him for the job, and had access to the driver’s licenses of 5 million Arizonans while working for Hummingbird.
     U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow tossed Greschner’s defamation lawsuit Monday.
     “Plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine issue of fact regarding the article’s potentially defamatory statement that HDSI’s ‘technical capabilities were lacking,'” Snow wrote.
     Snow relied on the news outlets’ statement of facts after Greschner, who represented himself, failed to provide his own statement.
     Included in those facts were comments made by Hummingbird’s former director of engineering, who acknowledged that many of the company’s projects were “beyond the scope of [HDSI’s] abilities,” and a former board member who said “the projects were so poorly managed by [plaintiff] that essentially what he was doing — he’d have to cover expenses for projects that hadn’t been completed.” (Brackets in ruling.)
     Greschner also took issue with the article’s report that Hummingbird “struggled to get government work.”
     “Plaintiff makes several claims that HDSI was involved in numerous governmental projects during this time period. Plaintiff, nevertheless, again failed to support his contentions with any admissible evidence on the record,” Snow wrote.
     The publications at issue, however, showed the company was involved in only two projects in 2001 and 2002, Snow found.
     Finally, Greschner claimed that the article falsely stated he assumed Fan would be vetted by law enforcement or government officials.
     “The reporters made this statement based on their interview notes with plaintiff that shows that plaintiff stated: ‘I would assume they vetted Larry [Fan]. … If they were doing their job — they would have done a background check on him and the family … I would assume that the vetting process would have had to gone on.'” (Brackets and ellipses in ruling.)
     Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica, said in a statement the organization was “gratified” by Snow’s ruling.
     “We have contended from the first that this lawsuit lacked merit, and are pleased to see that view confirmed,” Tofel said.
     Greschner did not respond to a request for comment.

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