The culture of spying invading all corporate culture? H.P. Is Said to Have Studied Spying on Newsrooms
Hewlett-Packard conducted feasibility studies on planting spies in news bureaus of two major publications as part of an investigation of leaks from its board, an individual briefed on the companyâ€™s review of the operation said yesterday.
The studies, referred to in a Feb. 2 draft report for a briefing of senior management, are said to have included the possibility of placing investigators acting as clerical employees or cleaning crews in the San Francisco offices of CNET and The Wall Street Journal.
Documents provided to the House Energy and Commerce Committee show that large companies including LaSalle Bank, Ford Motor Credit, and a unit of Wachovia Bank hired investigators who officials suspect passed along data such as personal telephone call records obtained through illicit means.
Investigators believe these firms or their vendors lied to obtain the records, a method called “pretexting” that Hewlett-Packard Co. has admitted its contractors used and that has set off a furor leading chairwoman Patricia Dunn to announce her resignation.
The congressional documents suggest that the same methods the California computer company’s investigators used are common in corporate America. Part of Hewlett-Packard’s defense might wind up being that it was following the lead of other firms, said James Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington privacy advocacy group.
Some advice from the NYTimes editorial page: Outsourcing Ethics
The battle at Hewlett-Packard, where an effort to unmask the source of leaks to the news media led to a sleazy investigation of the companyâ€™s own board of directors involving their private records, offers up two useful lessons.
It should remind those of us watching from the sidelines just how porous our privacy is in an era of databases and hackers and sophisticated snoops, and how much we need greater legal safeguards and protections to keep pace with the technological advances. Institutions should take a very different lesson away: That their reputations are only as good as the people they hire.
[…] Ours is an era short on common sense and long on contortions to either fit the letter of the law or to reach the dodgy state of plausible deniability. While Hewlett-Packard has a right to crack down on boardroom leaks, it has a responsibility to do so legally. As head of the board, it was Ms. Dunnâ€™s responsibility to ensure that the companyâ€™s standards were met in any investigation, no matter who was tasked with the job. We hope that Hewlett-Packardâ€™s mistakes provide an instructive example to the ethically impaired.