Hewlett-Packard roiled by corporate spying scandal

Hewlett-Packard chairwoman Patricia Dunn is clinging to her job as she was battered with accusations that she ordered a probe in which board members and reporters were illegally spied on.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer vowed to prosecute wrongdoers at the end of his investigation into whether private detectives hired by HP impersonated board members and journalists to get private telephone records.

Dunn had detectives hired to ferret out who had been leaking information from board meetings to members of the press, according to the veteran Silicon Valley computer company.

Lockyer's office launched an investigation about a month ago after getting word that telephone records of board members were obtained by a ruse known as "pretexting," calling the telecom company and posing as customers.

"We believe a crime has been committed and we are just trying to find out who did it," Lockyer spokesman Tom Dressler told AFP on Friday. "We are aggressively pursuing it."

While no law on the California books specifically outlawed "pretexting," the deception violated laws regarding identification theft and unauthorized access to computer data, Dressler said.

A law awaiting signature by state Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would make "pretexting" illegal.

Dunn denied authorizing illicit tactics and said that she would bow to the will of the board if it wanted her to resign.

The HP board planned to meet on Sunday, according to HP spokeswoman Emma Wischhusen, who gave no further information about the gathering.

Dunn was "appalled" at what happened and planned to apologize to the journalists, Wischhusen told AFP.

"We are fully cooperating with the attorney general's office and providing any material they request from us," Wischhusen said.

Dunn followed in the footsteps of former chief executive officer Carly Fiorina in trying to find out how information from supposedly confidential board meetings was channeled to the press, according to HP.

There has been a "long history" of company information being leaked, HP chief executive officer Mark Hurd said in a message to employees on Friday.

Dunn launched an investigation with the board's knowledge and a private detective firm was enlisted, the company said.

"Patty was assured the tactics were legal," Wischhusen said.

The probe initiated by Dunn identified board member George Keyworth as the source one that leaked the information, and he resisted ensuing pressure to resign, according to the company.

Another board member quit and tipped off Lockyer after learning someone had impersonated him to access his home telephone records.

The trick was reportedly used to get personal telephone records of nine journalists, among them reporters for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Cnetnews.com.

"Clearly things have happened here that are unacceptable," Hurd said in his message. "I can assure you we will get to the bottom of this and take appropriate action."

The US Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) condemned the "pretexting" as a violation of press rights and suggested HP should stand for "Hackers of Privacy."

"Journalists are not the only ones who should be concerned with this issue," said SPJ president Christine Tatum.

"If HP would use pretexting against a journalist who is charged with reporting information to the public, who's next?"

The corporate intrigue shouldn't hurt HP's business, according to Standard and Poor's Rating Service. HP stock price has climbed about 29 percent since Fiorina stepped down in 2005.

"At this point in time we do not expect HP's corporate governance to affect our ratings or outlook," S and P said, noting it would monitor developments.

"Significant deterioration in the proper functioning of HP's board, significant distraction from the board's oversight responsibilities, or meaningful damage to the company's reputation could affect Standard and Poor's view."

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