Journalists Sue HP For Invasion Of Privacy - InformationWeek

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8/16/2007
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Journalists Sue HP For Invasion Of Privacy

The suit stems from the actions of HP board members and contractors who used deception to obtain confidential and detailed phone records.

Four journalists and one of their family members are suing Hewlett-Packard for obtaining their personal phone records.

The journalists filed lawsuits in California this week. They claim that HP invaded their privacy. HP acknowledged in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing last year that it investigated journalists in order to find out who, inside the company, had been leaking information to the press.

The actions of HP board members and contractors led to congressional hearings about pretexting, the use of deception to obtain confidential and detailed phone records. They also led to the resignations of Board Chairperson Patricia Dunn and lawyer and ethics chief Kevin Hunsaker.

The State of California leveled charges against five people, including Dunn and Hunsaker, but later dropped them all. California also obtained a $14.5 million settlement from HP in exchange for dropping an investigation of the company.

The journalists include Dawn Kawamoto, Thomas Krazit, and Stephen Shankland with CNET's News.com and Rachel Konrad with the Associated Press. Shankland's father also filed suit. They allege invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of California fair business rules.

The reporters' own publications have reported that HP representatives said they were disappointed the reporters did not take a settlement and decided to sue instead. The company said it plans to defend itself against the lawsuits.

The legal complaints use the defendants' own words from a barrage of media stories and government inquiries resulting from the SEC disclosure. Specifically, the complaints quote Dunn stating during a press interview that pretexting is "wrong," then stating before Congress that it was part of a "standard arsenal" of HP investigatory practices. It also states that the federal government was "so alarmed" by the disclosures that it began an expedited effort to enact legislation that specifically outlaws what HP's investigators had done.

During the media and congressional fallout, HP representatives acknowledged that investigators acting on their behalf may have sent tracer e-mail to the journalists and employed other tactics to put their work and personal lives under surveillance. Documents released during that period indicated that investigators attempted to watch Kawamoto at her home and follow her on a Disney vacation with her child.

The plaintiffs' lawyers announced the lawsuit Wednesday, a day before HP was to announce its earnings. One of the journalists was not involved with HP professionally but had her phone records examined by the company's investigators anyway. Rachel Konrad, who works for AP, is married to Stephen Shankland who covered HP for CNET. Her phone records and those of her father-in-law were allegedly examined as HP spied on Stephen Shankland. All are seeking a jury trial and punitive damages.

HP's stocks seemed largely unaffected throughout the public debate and investigations relating to its practices. Thursday afternoon, the stock was down 3.23% at $44.66.

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