March 14, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

What If It Was CNN?

A Slashdotter tells a personal story illustrating how a trade secret -- or what a company claims is a trade secret -- can be a matter of public importance:

Back in 1995 Steve Young of CNN told me "CNN protects its sources." I was on the phone with him discussing having CNN send a camera crew to interview me the next day.

I had just told him there was no way he could put me on the air. Intel was at that time reeling from the consequences from the fiasco that was the math flaw in the Pentium processor.

What I had in my possession made that math flaw look like a minor hang nail.

I had trade secret documents from Intel, legally released to me under non-disclosure agreement (since expired, so now the tale can be told).

The contents of those documents revealed flaws in Intel 486 processors that basically rendered them "Unsafe at any speed."

If Friday's ruling [PDF] in Apple v. Does is allowed to stand, it will make it that much easier for companies to keep information like this hidden away. Simply classify whatever it is as a "trade secret," and any reporter who gets a scoop will be under a legal threat -- and his or her private email will be fair game for the company's attorneys. And that means potential sources will disappear, even when the public interest is at stake.

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