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HP's pretext to spy
Published: 2006-09-06

Authorized by Hewlett-Packard's chairwoman Patricia Dunn to find a director who leaked the company's plans to the media, private investigators used pretexting--impersonating a person to get their phone records--to link one boardmember with a call to a reporter earlier this year.

Details of the incident were revealed in media reports on Wednesday, the same day that Hewlett-Packard filed a report to the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) acknowledging that the board's actions are under investigation by California's Attorney General.

The controversial, and potentially illegal, actions stemmed from an investigation of privileged information that appeared in an article published by in January. The article, which discussed HP's future plans, included information that could only have come from a member of the board of directors. Failing to identify the leak during one-on-one interviews with the directors, Dunn tasked a team of private investigators to find the individual responsible, according to the SEC filing. The security experts used pretexting, using false information to gain access to phone records, to find the person who called the reporter, the company acknowledged in the filing.

The person was identified as Dr. George A. Keyworth II, a former science advisor to late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who was asked to resign at a board meeting on May 22, 2006. He refused, but noted Silicon Valley venture capitalist Thomas Perkins resigned in protest over Dunn's actions. He later requested information on how the information had been obtained.

"In response to Mr. Perkins’ request, HP informed Mr. Perkins that no recording or eavesdropping had occurred, but that some form of 'pretexting' for phone record information, a technique used by investigators to obtain information by disguising their identity, had been used," HP stated in its SEC filings. "Mr. Perkins, although no longer a director, then requested that HP conduct an inquiry into the propriety of the techniques used to conduct the investigation."

Pretexting, and the sale of phone records obtained using the technique, has already become a national controversy, with Congress holding hearings on the subject earlier this year. The Federal Communications Commission is currently investigating the sale of phone records to private investigators and marketers.

Posted by: Robert Lemos
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