California-based vehicle tech corporation Tesla is suing a former employee, who some saw simply as a whistleblower, over alleged acts of industrial espionage.
The former Tesla technician who stands accused by Tesla boss Elon Musk of industrial espionage has been named as Martin Tripp. The allegations made against Mr Tripp include that he was hacking and stealing company secrets, and that he wrote software that was designed to aid in the theft of photos and videos.
Tesla has also alleged that Mr Tripp was partly motivated to commit malicious acts against the company after he failed to get a promotion. Tesla has filed a federal lawsuit against him.
Tesla is also reported as saying that 40-year old forces veteran Tripp made false claims to the media about the information he allegedly stole, particularly where claims about punctured battery cells, excess scrap material and manufacturing delays are concerned.
Far from being an alleged criminal who meant the company harm, Mr Tripp claims that he is simply a whistleblower who the company is trying to get rid of in order to cover up details about products / components that could damage the company’s reputation if they were known.
For example, Tripp claims that he has simply been trying to expose “some really scary things” at Tesla, including punctured batteries being used in vehicles. Mr Tripp has also alleged that he became disillusioned with Tesla when (as he alleges) he saw how Elon Musk was lying to investors about how many cars they were making.
Mr Tripp has also been reported as saying that he didn’t write any software to aid the theft of photos and videos because he has no patience for coding, and that he didn’t care about failing to get a promotion.
Tripp is looking for legal protection as a whistleblower.
Silencing a Scapegoat?
Mr Tripp has been reported as saying that he is being made a scapegoat because he provided information that was true, that Tesla are doing everything they can to silence him, and that he feels that he had no rights as a whistleblower.
The local Sheriff’s office is reported as announcing that there is no credible threat to the Tesla’s lithium-ion battery factory, known as the Gigafactory.
Mr Tripp has been reported as saying that he allegedly turned whistleblower after his concerns were not taken seriously by anyone in the company.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
It would certainly not be unheard-of for a disgruntled employee / former employee to pose a security risk or commit acts of sabotage. For example, back in 2014, Andrew Skelton, who was an auditor at the head office of supermarket chain Morrisons in Bradford, leaked the personal details of almost 100,000 staff. Mr Skelton is believed to have deliberately stolen and leaked the data in a move to get back at the company after he was accused of dealing in legal highs at work.
We are also familiar with how difficult companies / organisations and other interested parties can make it for people who are whistleblowers, e.g. reports in the media about Dr Hayley Dare who received poison-pen letters was dismissed from a 20 year unblemished career with a three line email after raising concerns over a patient’s safety with her employer, an NHS Trust.
In the case of Tesla, it is currently not possible to say whether or not Mr Tripp is a whistleblower or a disgruntled former-employee with malicious intent. What it does remind us though is that corporate / company culture should be such that employees feel able to express their concerns, are listened to, and that it is viewed as a positive way to find areas to make improvements and modifications that could actually help a company in the long-run.
The Tesla story should also remind companies to plug some basic security loopholes in IT systems when employees leave / are dismissed. This includes simply changing passwords, access rights, and monitoring systems to ensure that nothing untoward is happening.
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