Flickr User Shepherd Johnson Says Yahoo Security Officer and Former FBI Agent John Zent Threatens to Call Police on Him After Flickr Nuked His Account

Well the bizarre behavior by Flickr/Yahoo over recent customer service and account deletion issues may have just taken a big left turn from wackyland straight into the Twilight Zone. Earlier this week I reported an update on the case of Shepherd Johnson. You’ll remember Johnson as the Flickr user who had his account deleted without warning after posting remarks critical of President Obama on the official Presidential Flickr stream. It’s still not known if pressure from the White House played a role in having Johnson’s account deleted or not, but his account deletion gained widespread attention from both the blogosphere and the mainstream media after Yahoo nuked his entire account and photostream.

According to Johnson, after his account deletion he disconnected from Flickr for almost 3 months, reserved, he said, that nothing would come of his story. After giving more reflection recently to his situation, however, Johnson said that he became disgusted over how Yahoo! Flickr and the Whitehouse had treated him so he decided to try and readdress his account deletion issue with Flickr/Yahoo.

Johnson said that he started out trying to address his account deletion privately with Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ via Flickr mail. Johnson had spoken with Champ earlier last summer and said previously that she’d offered him a free $24.99 gift card so that he could get a new Flickr Pro account after the deletion. According to Johnson, however, this time around Champ promptly blocked his flickr mail messages. He then tried phoning Yahoo’s VP of Global Customer Care, Laura Narducci, using the phone number that she had given him when dealing with his high profile account deletion back in June. Johnson said he left voicemails but that Narducci did not return his calls.

Frustrated at being unable to contact Flickr/Yahoo directly over his account deletion, Shepherd next turned to Flickr’s Help Forum. As I reported on Tuesday, after Johnson posted requesting someone from Flickr/Yahoo contact him, Flickr locked his thread, ironically, telling him that he needed to contact them privately. Johnson started another thread complaining that he had tried to contact them privately with no success and ended up not only having that thread shut down, but being banned from the Flickr Help Forum indefinitely as well. (Note: I’m also indefinitely banned from the Flickr Help Forum. They banned me after referencing an anti-flickr blog in the forum last month). Interestingly, Yahoo employee Zack Sheppard told Johnson that “you are welcome to continue to communicate with us directly,” while locking his thread and booting him from the help forum.

Not willing to simply give up on what he felt was an unjust account deletion with no response from Flickr/Yahoo, Johnson tried again yesterday to contact Yahoo/Flickr over his issue leaving one more voicemail message for Narducci and one more for Champ. Johnson said that his voicemail messages were “not angry, not hostile voicemails, just me stating matter of factly that I wanted this issue resolved.”

And this is where things get weird….

After being totally ignored in his attempts to resolve his account deletion issue with Flickr/Yahoo staff. Johnson says that yesterday he finally did receive a call from someone at Yahoo. Only it wasn’t someone from Flickr’s customer care division at all. it was from someone named John Zent, apparently from Yahoo’s Legal Department’s Risk Management Group. Zent identified himself as a security professional for Yahoo as well as a former FBI Special Agent, Johnson told me. He told me that Zent threatened to have him removed from Flickr for TOS violations as well as have his IP address banned from the site. Zent went on to accuse Johnson of harassment and said that if he did not stop calling Yahoo that he would call the Sunnyvale Police on Johnson. “I was astonished that he had threatened to call the police on a customer who merely had an account dispute which he wanted to have resolved,” said Johnson.
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While Johnson denies harassing anyone at Yahoo, he did admit to a couple of comments in a post inquiring about what had happened to Champ’s face in a post containing a photograph of her that he felt was unflattering. He said that Zent was “extremely upset” by his comments in this post and brought it up three times with him telling Johnson that his activity on Flickr was being “closely monitored.”

A little digging on Zent would seem to indicate that he indeed actually may be a former FBI agent — although I’m not sure how appropriate it is to be using that status formally against a customer with an account deletion complaint at Yahoo. In fact, it would appear that Zent has quite a colorful past of his own having been charged by a number of sources as being the individual responsible for having Al-Qaeda (I told you this was going to get weird) operative Ali Mohamed released from the Canadian police in 1993 as an FBI Informant. Mohamed was also alleged to have been a “a key planner of the 9/11 plot, and trainer in hijacking,” Apparently another bizarre case related to Zent is that of his daughter’s former boyfriend who was convicted of a triple murder over the killing of his parents for life insurance money. Zent had reportedly testified on the boyfriend’s behalf during the trial.

Johnson says that he is not giving up on his account deletion, which he sees as a free speech issue, just yet. He said he plans to try and contact Narducci again, but that next time he said he’ll leave instructions on where the Sunnyvale police can pick him up. “Yes, my 1st Amendment rights, the issue that this whole thing started over back when I posted comments in the Official Whitehouse Photostream, those rights are that important to me and in an act of civil disobedience I am willing to go to jail for them,” said Johnson.

Interestingly enough, Flickr has repeatedly claimed in the past that they have no way of reactivating customer accounts after deletions. Most recently Flickr staff confirmed this and said that they also were not working on any such feature at present. According to Johnson Zent refuted this claim. “I asked him if Yahoo! could actually turn my account back on to which he replied, “Absolutely!” and then asked and answered his own question, “Will Yahoo! do that? No we will not.” This statement confirms that Heather Champ is a liar when she told me they could not reactivate my Flickr account,” said Johnson.

I contacted both Zent as well as Yahoo PR yesterday to try and get a response on Johnson’s case, but as of yet neither have returned my emails. If/when I hear from them I will post their response.

Update more on this deletion, including additional comments from Shepherd Johnson here. On Reddit here and here.

Update #2: On digg here.

Update #3: Jason Khoury from Yahoo PR just emailed me back the following response from Yahoo on this matter: “It is Yahoo! policy that we don’t discuss members’ accounts and their activity.”

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10 comments on “Flickr User Shepherd Johnson Says Yahoo Security Officer and Former FBI Agent John Zent Threatens to Call Police on Him After Flickr Nuked His Account
  1. Holy crap. I knew that Flickr was getting really bad, but _this_ is the type of guy they hire for their legal/security department?

    By this point, if I were Johnson, I’d get myself a lawyer and bring Flickr to court first.

  2. Vaibhav says:

    And to think I just bought a Pro account for the next two years… :(

  3. Griffon says:

    Well… far more likely that Zent was mistaken about account restoration or was confused between locked and deleted. I’m guessing he is bully boy and thus has limited technical expertise.
    At what point dose a company have the right to protect themselves from harassment, or what they perceived as such? Whole thing from start to finish seems idiotic, but is there really a 1st amendment issue when it’s not specifically and directly the government censoring you, I think not.

  4. Griffon: I’m no American, but from what I’ve heard, 1st Amendment rights are only good for dealing with the US government. Although, considering this began on the official White House photostream, that muddies the waters quite a bit — were it just between Johnson and Flickr, things would be clear-cut in regards to constitutional issues.

    Even if the 1st Amendment were discounted, however, there’s still good potential for a civil case against Flickr and quite possibly against Zent himself for his threatening behaviour.

  5. Anonymous (for obvious reasons) says:

    I think we should really fire up the presidential photo stream now and see what happens.

  6. Karel says:

    Thomas, dude, you had better start downloading/backupping your pics on flickr. Buy your own hosting and host your pics yourself. It is very cheap these days. Don’t let others control your content.

  7. doug says:

    goodbye flickr, I think its time to enjoy jpg magazine. screw yahoo