Re. OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee Statement - Update 2

On January 11, 2020, OpenCon responded to parts of my blog post that I posted on January 4. Here, I provide the full, unedited correspondence, including my responses to all comments.

Dear all,

Please see my inline responses in bold to each of your comments (plain format) below.

[OpenCon]: It is regrettable that you have chosen to publish a misleading blog post that contains numerous inaccuracies and omissions. We have documented these inaccuracies for our records. We have identified those issues below and recommend that you correct them publicly, in the interest of the full transparency and honesty that you call for in your blog.

[Me]: As I will detail below, there are no omissions, inaccuracies, or misleading statements in my letter to you. Indeed, virtually all of what you describe as incorrect below can be visibly disproven from the public documentation or are apparent self-contradictions. You have all now been given substantial notification of more than a month that this post and letter would appear online. For the sake of continued transparency and honesty, I will also post this latest dialogue online on my personal website.

Your claim that we did not respond meaningfully in “more than 2 months” at the time the blog was published is demonstrably false. The first time you asked any question of us was on a call you requested that took place on November 8th, and we provided a response to these questions via email within a week. As we told you during the call, we would review your questions and, as appropriate, provide a response, which we did. You did not respond to that message directly, and instead started a new thread 12 days later on November 27th, where you reiterated these questions and made your formal GDPR request for personal data.

You, presumably representing the rest of the CoC Committee, sent me an email that was not a response to my questions. You told me on the call we had (Nov 8) that time was needed to discuss my questions internally before answering them, which was clearly fine. I assumed that this meant that you were taking them seriously and would provide reasonable answers. However, you did not even perform this courtesy. If, as you say, this were “demonstrably false”, we would not be in the present situation as my questions would have been answered, I would not still be asking for answers to those same questions 2 months later, and this whole mess would be over. That I had to make a subsequent formal, legal request for this information, is testament to your continued refusal to answer.

If we compare the questions that I explicitly asked to the text of your response email, there is no correspondence. Hence, your lack of what I consider to be a meaningful response. Here it is again so you (and others) can clearly see this disconnect:

JT questions, summarised from call, Nov 8:

  1. Why did you make the public announcement now? This is noting that you formally banned me just over a year ago now (November 2018), based on incidents 1-2 years before that, as far as I am presently aware.

  2. What was your intention in making the public announcement?

  3. Did you take prior advice on the consequences and material risk of public incitement in making the statement?

  4. Did you plan to do anything about the libelous claims members of the OpenCon community have made as a direct consequence of your statement and its ambiguity? I believe that many of the claims would also be in violation of your Code of Conduct (CoC). Many of the more aggressive statements have been directed not just to myself, but also members of the wider community.

NS response, Nov 16:

This email is a follow up to our phone conversation last Friday responding to the various questions you asked during the course of the call.

As you said you would during our original conversation when we first notified you of the OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee’s review of your violating the code of conduct, in which you acknowledged both the seriousness and impropriety of your behavior, we hope you will continue to reflect on the harm that sexual harassment inflicts on others and on the community itself. As we also explained on that original call, the code of conduct committee’s decision is based on multiple accounts of inappropriate behavior over time.

The OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee takes its responsibility to the community very seriously, carefully considers reports, and takes action according to the process outlined in the code of conduct. Accordingly, the committee’s deliberations—including what information it receives, by whom, and when—are confidential to protect those providing information to the committee and ensure the integrity of this process. The information provided to the code of conduct committee in any report is sensitive by nature. It would be inappropriate (and in many cases damaging) for us to share this information publicly. All of the information that we can share about this specific case is in our public statement.

As we discussed on the call, the committee’s decision applies to all convenings organized by OpenCon, including both online and in-person spaces.

The OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee does not plan to comment further on this matter unless circumstances change.

As it is clear to see, during this exchange you did not answer any of my questions even partially, thus rendering your objection here null and my original statement true. All of the information you presented in this response email was a reiteration of things I already had known for some time, had very little to do with what we discussed on the call, and I am unsure what your intention with this communication was. You could have easily discussed the answers to my questions while respecting the confidentiality and integrity of the process. It was your lack of answering these reasonable questions in a civil manner that prompted me to seek a legal alternative.

Your statement that you were banned following “some sort of ‘investigation’” is deliberately misleading and invites speculation that there is a question about whether the ban was justified. There is no such question. In the conversation when you were notified of the OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee’s investigation and review of your violation of the code of conduct, you explicitly acknowledged both the seriousness and impropriety of your behavior and directly stated that you believed a ban was an appropriate course of action. As we also clearly stated on that original call, the Code of Conduct Committee’s decision was based on multiple accounts of inappropriate behavior over time and reflected the seriousness with which the Committee takes sexual harassment. This misrepresentation also contradicts your original public statement regarding the disclosure in which you “respect” and “applaud” the ban and OpenCon’s adherence to its code of conduct.

At no point have I or anyone else challenged the ban. Indeed, quite the opposite, as all public statements made by me (e.g., here), and my personal actions since the ban, have shown. This is hardly “deliberately misleading”, as you claim.

Let us be absolutely clear here. You gave me no choice but to acknowledge and accept your ban. At the time, your refusal to divulge any information or evidence to me regarding my accusations left me with no room to respond at all. I was unaware of what I had apparently done, to whom, who had accused me or when. I communicated this to you at the time, and I still remain unaware of these things. I was deemed guilty by accusation, denied fair access to legal counsel, and deprived of seeing any evidence. Your actions as part of your investigation explicitly avoided due process while simultaneously violating my fundamental human rights: see Articles 10 through 12 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. At the beginning of this process, you should have indicated to me that this was something that a lawyer should have been present for, as your behaviours have had profound and lasting legal and personal consequences.

I told you at the time that I have no idea what the accusations you communicated to me referred to, in all but one case – and this was, as I told you repeatedly at the time, something that we had resolved personally 2 years prior to OpenCon’s involvement. This is why I call it ‘some sort of investigation’, because I have no idea what you actually did, who you spoke to, or what evidence you gathered. I was in a state of shock during the call, as you should recall, as you shared a list of accusations that took me completely by surprise. Any questions I asked you about these accusations were completely unanswered. Because the accusations were impossible to challenge, I had no choice but to accept your judgement.

The apparent contradiction you find here is due to your continued evasion of my questions regarding your process after I posted my original statement. I did respect your process as it is after all a community that you control, and I was not in a position to challenge that based on the information you provided to me at the time. But, as I have already clearly outlined in my previous letter, there are some serious questions regarding the relative timing and motivations, that you still have not answered for me. The fact that you are still unable to answer these questions, and continue to avoid doing so over such a long period of time, raises further critical questions about OpenCon’s CoC process.

As far as I am aware, your allegations against me involve one isolated incident of unwanted physical approaching and contact while ‘dancing’. This is the only incident I can confirm, and was resolved shortly after it happened by myself and the other person involved. To this day, besides this one confirmed violation of the CoC more than 3 years ago now, I still have virtually no idea what the ban and your subsequent public statement one year later was based on. I was not sexually aggressive to anyone, or in a repeated manner, nor did I rape them, or anything that would constitute serious or violent sexual misconduct. Through OpenCon, I was given no warnings about what I had done, no ‘second chances’, no chance to apologise or make amends, and no prior notification of your public statement. Yet, you have allowed members of the OpenCon community to continue to make a number incredibly violent and public allegations at me in the space that your ambiguous statement created. By labelling my behaviours in the same way as more serious allegations, you do an incredible disservice to those of us who have suffered severe sexual harassment in our lives. Such a broad definition renders it almost meaningless and can desensitise others to victims who have suffered real and lasting harm.

You also claim that we never acknowledged your November 12th statement, privately or publicly. This is also a misrepresentation. During our phone conversation, you indicated that you were planning to make a statement of apology and asked Heather and myself if, based on that apology, we would forgive you. At that time, we indicated that, given our role in the code of conduct process, it was inappropriate for us to comment on the matter. Additionally, in our email to you on November 15th, we stated that “The OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee does not plan to comment further on this matter unless circumstances change,” which clearly indicated that we would not be commenting publicly.

This is also not true. You cannot acknowledge receipt of a statement before it is made. After a personal apology to you both, I asked you on our call on the 8th if both of you would forgive me for my actions because this is how I believe we practice compassion as individuals and as a community and become stronger for it. You and Heather refused to comment, which I acknowledged at the time. This was independent from my statement of apology, which appeared online some days later.

This is also clearly distinct from you privately acknowledging the receipt of a statement after I sent it directly to you, a courtesy that I have extended to you when needed. As I have also now notified you of multiple times on the call and by email, circumstances have significantly changed, as I described to you in detail in my letter. It is up to you whether you feel a further public comment is necessary. At the present, everything you have revealed to me personally about this incident is a matter of public record. Members of the OpenCon community continue to make false, libellous, and hurtful statements to myself and others online too following these events. I do not understand why you do not seem to have intervened in these cases. Circumstances will continue to change unless you provide some much-needed transparency and answer my questions. The sooner we can all move on from this, in one way or another, the better.

You claim that we have “failed to respond appropriately to a lawful Freedom of Information request.” This too is false. We acknowledged your request and indicated that we are working diligently on processing it. As you know, GDPR allows for a longer timeline for complex inquiries, and given the sensitivity of the data involved and confidentiality concerns regarding reports of sexual misconduct that impact the rights of others, your request presents such a complex case.

I am at a loss here. If you have performed a professional investigation, and have carefully documented a series of ‘inappropriate behaviours’, then why is this information not readily available? If it is not readily available and well-documented, then how are your behaviours regarding me substantiated? If everything had been professionally and carefully documented correctly, then this would not constitute a complex inquiry as you would only need to remove any confidential names from your records and then send them to me.

Here, you are misrepresenting public information; my original statement said: “They have also failed to respond appropriately to a lawful Freedom of Information request, even after I granted an extension to the recommended deadline”; which, as I have repeatedly notified you, is true given the 30 day recommended deadline by the UK ICO. The timeline of events makes this clear.

I still do not understand why has it taken more than 2 months now, and a lawful Freedom of Information request, to obtain information about me that you have used to publicly humiliate me. If it is because you need to redact names and anonymise reports, this should not take 2 months to perform. If it is because you needed to consult lawyers or contact the complainants in advance, or gather further information, then you should have done all of these things before making a public announcement.

This comes across as yet another stall tactic and attempt to derail focus from the fact that you have still not answered my questions, and seem to be unable to follow the recommended guidelines for a lawful Freedom of Information request. That I am being forced to make elements of this situation public is a direct consequence of you continuing to delay answering very simple questions and adding increasing complexity to what was originally a very reasonable request. I have constantly communicated to you that I wish for an expeditious end to this nightmare, so that I can begin rebuilding my life after the damage you have caused me. I do not understand why answer the 4 questions above is taking so long if there are rational answers to them.

Your selective publication of specific private correspondence is also misleading. You omit all correspondence but our most recent message to you, including our message on November 15th directly responding to the questions you raised on our November 8th call. This falsely gives the impression that we have not responded.

The timeline I presented at the beginning of the post makes this absolutely clear that you did respond, just not to any great effect. There is direct and clear evidence of this above. Hence why we remain in a difficult situation, one that I have given you more than ample time to avoid. There is no false impression here, as is clear from the timeline where I indicate that you have responded and in what manner. If you wish, I will post the full correspondence about this online. However, what I have posted still represents an accurate history of events.

For the sake of clarity, and as you know, we have never asked for an extension. As we’ve worked carefully to address your November 27th email with the GDPR request, we have kept you updated on the timeline of our process. This timeline has been and will continue to be driven by our internal process.

I have noted your updates in the timeline at the beginning of my post. You never asked explicitly for an extension, but I granted you them due to your inability to follow recommended GDPR guidelines, as stated in my previous letter to you. I could have filed a legal complaint 2 weeks ago now as you have missed the recommended deadline by some margin, and you could have been fined for continued delays. I have no wish to do this, but remaining complacent of my situation and of relevant UK laws does not help your case.

To reiterate, the data I have requested from OpenCon is no more than is outlined by Chapter 3 of the Data Protection Act UK 2018 as being within my right to access, and under ICO guidelines to receive said data within 30 days. It is following due legal process as a UK citizen, clearly outlined in my letter. That request was made on November 28 and remains unfulfilled.

We also note that the online publication of private “without prejudice” correspondence while we are in the process of making a good faith effort to respond to your requests fundamentally contradicts the purpose of such a notice.

This statement means that I intended the letter as an informal means of mediating and the contents cannot be extracted and used as binding offers to settle in any future hearing. (i.e. it won’t prejudice my legal position). There is no fundamental contradiction here. In the same letter I notified you that if you continued to avoid answering my questions, and disregard UK law, then I would post the article online. This again is a matter of public record now.

I am struggling to see how you are acting in ‘good faith’, when your continued refusal to resolve this issue with civility means that I have been forced to resort to legal alternatives. Picking at my letter in this way instead of professionally responding to my lawful and civil requests is hardly in ‘good faith’ either, while I have been patiently waiting for an answer as to why you made a public statement that has destroyed my reputation and caused an incredible amount of personal suffering.

Finally, the need to address your January 4 blog post and document the information above has traded off with our capacity to process your request for information subject to GDPR. We will provide our preliminary response with this information next week.

As I have clearly outlined above, each one of your statements here about my letter is unequivocally incorrect, with appropriate and sufficient public documentation to prove this. There is nothing that I have made public that needs to be in any way corrected. For 2 months now, I have been asking for justification for the decision to why you have publicly made a statement about me, in seeming contradiction of your own CoC processes, and you are still refusing to grant this to me. You seem to have found the time to make a response to my letter within several days once I made it public, and yet remain unable to find similar time to answer my reasonable questions.

I strongly recommend that you avoid making these simple mistakes in the future and focus on processing the lawful request I have made to you instead. There are a number of critical outstanding questions that I, and others, have raised, that you are continuing to avoid answering. This applies to OpenCon, SPARC, the R2RC, and the other members of the COC Committee who, for some reason, you have continuously omitted from any correspondence on this matter. The responsibility lies on all of the institutes that you are continuously leveraging against me to attack my credibility.

For the final time, I ask that you respond to my original questions. Every day that you do not answer continues to do immeasurable harm to me and my work. I imagine it is also doing significant damage to your own reputation too, as well as the wider ‘open science’ community. Which is perhaps what prompted this rather defensive email, although all of the vast and measurable damage is currently being focused on me. Please do not continue to behave so complacently toward this and appropriate legal process. I do not believe that you would be doing so if you were suffering in the same way that I am, and your actions demonstrate a shocking lack of accountability over this matter.

If you do not respond again by Friday 17 January, I will be forced to file a formal complaint with the UK ICO, as I indicated to you in the original letter. Please note that this is now almost a 3-week extension to the original recommended deadline, and around 10 weeks since I asked you the original questions. I have been more than patient with what is clearly a deeply flawed process at the heart of OpenCon’s Code of Conduct.