Since AAI revealed the theft of its list of 20,00 subscribers, three days ago, we have been subjected to insults and irresponsible false accusations from friends of the thief. Leading the charge is Courtney Heard’s friend and IAA Advisory Board member, Mr Oz Atheist.
Guilty people have employed an evil tactic to divert blame for longer than anyone knows. Nowadays we call it shaming the victim. It is dishonest and deplorable but it is Mr Oz Atheist’s only weapon, so he is using it at every opportunity.
Let’s be clear, AAI and its subscribers are the victims here. We employed Courtney in good faith as our Co-Executive Director. In that role it was necessary for her to have access to our Membership and Subscriber data. In that position of trust she downloaded our data to her own PC, resigned from AAI and used that stolen data to grow her own organisation. Theft is a crime. Sending people unsolicited emails is also a crime in many jurisdictions and it is unethical everywhere.
Let’s start by asking, did IAA take our data? Yes, without a shadow of doubt. IAA posted a fake apology on their website on August 21 last year (after they discovered we suspected a theft had occurred), IAA’s solicitor admitted they hold a file containing our data, Courtney has admitted it on Twitter and we have received dozens of emails from our subscribers complaining they have received marketing emails from IAA that they have not signed up for.
Mr Oz Atheist’s response was not to determine if his friend was guilty, it was to abuse the victims of her crime. He accused us of a “campaign of harassment and bullying”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s look at the facts.
Because IAA is helping the very same people we help, we wanted to put the problem right quickly with minimum effect on IAA’s work. We tried very hard to do that as the facts prove.
We began to suspect IAA had stolen our data in the second week of August 2020. The initial evidence was flimsy so we carried out an investigation. By mid-September we had enough evidence to be near-certain IAA had stolen, and used, our data.
Our aim was to put this right with minimal harm to IAA. Putting it right involved:
- Telling our subscribers what had happened and that their data can no longer be used by IAA.
- Finding a way to be sure our data had been put beyond IAA’s use and had not been passed to any third party.
- A statement by IAA confirming that AAI bears no responsibility for the misuse of our data.
We wrote to IAA on September 14 outlining these conditions. We waited until October 16 for IAA to respond. IAA’s response was to ask us to sign a legally-binding agreement that was so focussed on secrecy that it would have prevented us from answering legitimate questions from our subscribers. (See here for details of the agreement.)
Far from harassing IAA, we patiently negotiated with them to find a mutually acceptable formula until December 16, when IAA broke off the negotiations. That was three months from the first letter we sent to them.
This matter could have been amicably resolved months ago if IAA had been more concerned to do the right thing than to cover up their ill deeds.
We gave IAA fair warning that we would take this matter public and, as a last resort, report it to the police, if we could not resolve it in private. The steps necessary to put this right cost nothing and are simple and honest. It is now five months since we alerted IAA to this problem. We have been more than patient but we cannot be patient forever.
If Mr Oz Atheist did not know all this, he should have investigated before calling us “a bunch of absolute odious cretins” and accusing us of harassment and bullying. We have dealt with this theft in a measured, honest and ethical way from the beginning and we will continue to do so.
I know people like to defend their friends Oz, but is it decent to extend that to defending an admitted thief and insulting and shaming her victims? What happened to your integrity?
For the record, AAI has been helping atheists at risk for many years. Just over two weeks ago, we saved the life of a young man on death row for blasphemy and we helped a young Muslim woman escape from her family who would have killed her because she had abandoned her religion. She is now in a safe country and being supported. That is what we do, day in and day out.