DETROIT - At Ford Motor Co., the Net is also a sieve.
Some of Ford's highly sensitive internal documents were posted on the Internet, available to consumers and competitors alike.
Last Wednesday, Aug. 25, Ford won a temporary restraining order stopping Robert Lane, who operates blueovalnews.com, from posting copyrighted information on his Web site.
'This case implies Ford hasn't done a very good job of tightening access controls on its information,' said Ken Cutler, director of information security and professional services at Netplex Group Inc. in McLean, Va.
Lane, a 32-year-old nursing student from Dearborn, Mich., said he posted the information on the Web site for the benefit of consumers.
'People who read the site are more educated about Ford,' he said. 'It gives them an edge.' He said all of the documents he posted had been either mailed to his home anonymously or dropped off during the night.
Cutler said the Web site points to a dilemma: 'The challenge (for Ford) is to keep an eye on the use of internal information. (But) what type of Big Brother mechanism can you put into place to stop these kinds of leaks?'
Among the documents posted on the Web site last Wednesday were some purporting to describe future Ford engines, vehicles and other products, including:
A 4.5-liter diesel double-overhead-cam V-6 supplied by Navistar International Corp. for the 2002 Ford Expedition and 2003 F-150 and full-sized van.
A new Ford full-sized sedan code-named E158 and a new Jaguar sedan code-named X300 with a 4.4-liter V-8.
A redesigned Mustang for the 2003 model year based on the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type platform using a 4.9-liter V-8 in GT models and a 5.0-liter V-8 in Cobra models.
Sophisticated new engine technology, including a combination starter and alternator, autoshift manual transmission, camless valvetrain and variable compression-ratio connecting rods.
Lane said he is protected by free-speech guarantees in the U.S. Constitution, but intellectual property experts said he likely will face court-ordered sanctions.
'To me, there are clear misappropriations of confidential information that this guy is exploiting,' said Michael Huget, an intellectual property lawyer with the Ann Arbor, Mich., office of Butzel Long.
The temporary restraining order, granted Friday, Aug. 27, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, calls for Lane to stop posting documents, reveal the sources of his information and stop soliciting documents from Ford employees. On Thursday, Aug. 26, Lane had taken nearly all the documents off the site.
A spokesman for Ford said criticism of the company is fine, but not if it involves copyright and trademark infringement.
'We are not concerned about the existence of critical Web sites per se. People are free to write what they want about Ford,' said company spokesman Jim Cain. 'But what makes this site particularly egregious is the fact that he tried to sell the documents.' Lane admitted he offered some engine component blueprints for sale but said no one bought them.
OPEN TO PIRACY
The case helps illustrate how the Internet is affecting automotive manufacturing, said industry analyst David Andrea, with CMS Corp. in Northville, Mich.
On one hand, the Internet can cut product development time and increase communication between an automaker and its suppliers. On the other hand, Andrea said, the case demonstrates 'how susceptible companies are (to information piracy) and how quickly information can be disseminated on the Internet.'
Ford will seek a permanent injunction today, Aug. 30, when the two sides are scheduled to appear in court, Cain said.