HP Claims Ignorance Of Leak Probe Methods

Under increasing fire for investigating board members and journalists in a media leak probe, HP officials are now claiming the company had no knowledge of the shady tactics used by hired investigators. Meanwhile, calls are growing for heads to roll.
HP claims the investigation revealed that George Keyworth, a board member, had leaked information to the media. Dunn announced the findings at a board meeting and Keyworth reportedly confirmed that he had leaked the information. He could not be reached for comment. The Board asked Keyworth to resign. He refused.

Fellow Board Member Thomas Perkins, who resigned in protest, said Dunn betrayed him by failing to go directly and privately to Keyworth. Perkins later requested information on how Dunn identified Keyworth as the leak, asking if investigators had monitored his own communications or those of other board members.

HP lawyers stated, then and more recently, that the investigators obtained private phone records of HP board members and journalists by "pretexting," or pretending to be an account holder in order to access the private information. Perkins requested that the board examine the propriety of the investigation.

HP lawyers claimed in a recent SEC filing that pretexting is "generally not unlawful," while simultaneously acknowledging that it could not "confirm that the techniques employed by the outside consulting firm and the party retained by that firm complied in all respects with applicable law."

The company filed its lengthy and voluntary explanation with the SEC after the SEC and Lockyer began looking into the matter, and Perkins had complained repeatedly about the incident and indicated he had retained a lawyer.

HP initially defended its position by stating that it had to take action to protect proprietary information, while acknowledging that it should have monitored investigators' activities more closely. The company also stated that it would not use pretexting in future investigations, which would be subject to stronger controls to make sure they comply with laws and HP's own code of ethics. A spokesperson declined to say how the board planned to strengthen controls.

HP has touted its role as a leader in privacy, both for its customers and employees, stressing the importance of the link between brand and trust. It helped found the International Association of Privacy Professionals and one of its lawyers serves on the board.

Perkins, a venture capitalist who was HP's first general computer manager in the 1960s, has been on his new $100 million yacht, the Maltese Falcon, in the Mediterranean and has not responded to attempts to reach him for comment.

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