Thursday, October 05, 2006, 10/05/2006 09:19:00 AM

Hewlett-Packard -- The Big Shoe Drops

Can concerns about corporate security go too far, even become obsessive in ways that ultimately prove detrimental for the company and, especially, those who are obsessed?

In case there was any question in your mind, the answer is "yes."

California's Attorney General announced felony indictments yesterday of HP's former chairman, a former company lawyer (who also, ironically, served as "Chief Ethics Officer"), and three investigators in the scandal arising out of the leak investigation in which the private investigators used "pretexting," aka lying, to obtain phone records of HP directors and others. (The link above to the New York Times has the whole story.)

According to the Times, there are four charges: using of false or fraudulent pretenses to obtain confidential information from a public utility, unauthorized access to computer data, identity theft, and conspiracy to commit each of those crimes.

Patricia Dunn, the former chairman, apparently hired the first investigator in 2005 and "received frequent reports" on the progress of the investigation. (Those frequent reports must have either directly or indirectly indicated to her the nature of the unsavory tactics being utilized. The Chief Ethics Officer took over the investigation in 2006.

The Times reports that the case is made more difficult by the fact that California did not specifically outlaw pretexting at the time of the investigation. Thus, the somewhat obscure nature of the charges. Is a cell phone company a "public utility"? Were identities really stolen?

These are going to be difficult legal questions as the case moves forward.

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