Saturday, September 30, 2006

my end of the bargain

The recent story of HP's internal spying is interesting, to say the least. To briefly sum up what seems to have occurred, the press at some point disclosed information to the public on HP's corporate strategy that, presumably, only members of the board of directors (as well as the CEO and other top officers) should have known. This leaking upset the Chairman of the Board, Patrica Dunn, so she used an outside investigative compnay to find out from where the leaks where coming. The tactics used by this investigative effort were highly suspect and included bugging internal e-mail and listening into personal phone calls.

If you're like me and you also take the above set of assertions as true, you question the corporate culture of HP but would question why in the world the federal government needed to convene a hearing on this seemingly internal matter.

It turns out that the basic federal concern is over HP's use of pretexting, whereby "one person masquerades as another to obtain private information such as phone records." The major concern is whether HP used social security numbers to pretext. I keep coming across that there is a real possibility that this probably would have violated a federal statute, although I have yet to find any article that specifically cites the criminal/civil law.

In any event, I don't think it is at all clear that the feds need to be involved in this type of situation. The federal law is likely based on interstate commerce concerns, but one wonders whether state fraud laws would have done the job as well. Whatever your beliefs on the merits of the feds' involvement, check out some of the quotes from this past week's congressional hearing, including:

"Is all of this really the HP way?...I'm not even talking about the legality issues so much as kind of the sleaze factor here. And I'm just wondering if none of this really came through to you over the period." Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, to former HP Chairman Patricia Dunn


Blogger Jessica Spaulding said...

I have to admit this isn't a story I've been following, but from what little I've heard I'm trying to wrap my head around exactly what "tactics" were used. They were using social security numbers to get phone numbers, is that right? I guess I'm not understanding why they wouldn't already have phone numbers.

Pretexting in general I guess is the civilian version of entrapment, right?

As for "should the federal government be involved?" I don't know. If both a state law and a federal law apply to the same act which one should be prosecuted?

Thanks for the post. Sorry for my incomplete thoughts. Will post more when I'm not so tired.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

I'm not sure how the decision is made to proceed first with a state-level or federal prosecution. I'm sure prosecutors at each level communicate with each other at least occassionaly, and I think they share the goal of prosecuting violators of the law to the extent possible and in an efficient manner as well.

8:58 AM  

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