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Powergen vs whistle-blower case adjourned

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A civil trial between Powergen and a customer who highlighted a serious breach in consumer security at the utility more than three years ago has been adjourned until 16 June.

In a curious turn of events, Powergen is sueing against the whistle blower, John Chamberlain.

Chamberlain earned the enmity of the British utility company for leaking a list of credit card details left unprotected on its website to Silicon.com in July 2000. Fast forward almost four years and Chamberlain is fighting a breach of confidence suit from Powergen, prompted by the acrimonious fall-out from the security breach and its subsequent media coverage.

A hearing of this civil lawsuit, which arises out of an accusation that Chamberlain failed to keep a promise to destroy customer data obtained from Powergen's site, began at Birmingham's Chancery Court on 8 March and ran until 12 March.

The court heard legal arguments but "unfortunately there wasn't enough time to complete the trial and it has been adjourned until June", Chamberlain told El Reg.

Without any legal aid, Leicester-based former IT consultant Chamberlain has been forced to conduct his own legal defence in the case.

In a separate action initiated in January, Chamberlain is also involved in a domain name dispute over the site PoWergen.tv. This site was "registered in bad faith" and originally (for a time in October 2003) contained content critical of Powergen, according to Powergen's complaint to ICANN.

The bad feeling between Powergen and Chamberlain began after he found a serious security hole on its site back in July 2000. Rather than thanking him for pointing out that customers' financial details were easily obtainable through simple URL manipulation, Powergen at first denied anything was wrong.

But after Silicon.com was able to prove the security breach via credit card information turned over to it by Chamberlain, Powergen upped the ante by threatening to obtain an injunction against Silicon.com and by branding Chamberlain as a "hacker".

But no prosecution was ever brought against Chamberlain. He is highly critical of Powergen's initial denials as well as its subsequent aggressive stance.

"My complaint wasn't handled properly from the start," he said. ®

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