Sunday, November 13, 2011

Private investigators in HP spying case may get jail time, company execs skated

The HP execs who told their security personnel to snoop on reporters covering the company were either let off the hook or given hand-slaps. But the Florida father-and-son team of private investigators who were hired by a contractor for HP went before U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of San Jose on Wednesday (Nov. 9), where their plea agreement (which is apparently secret) was discussed. CNET quotes Judge Koh as saying, “There’s no reason to do this hastily.” It’s only been four years since HP began snooping on journalists. “This could be 10 [months], 12 [months], a year in jail.”

CNET’s Michelle Meyers wrote:
    The DePante's Melbourne, Fla.-based private investigation firm, Action Research Group, was hired indirectly by HP (through another contractor) and used the now illegal practice of "pretexting," which involves obtaining personal information under false pretenses. 
    Among the journalists and board members targeted were three CNET News reporters and one reporter's father, according to court documents filed by assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Cheng. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Business Week reporters were also targeted in the HP investigations. 
    The two directed other investigators, who posed as account holders or employees of phone companies, to fraudulently obtain personal information including phone numbers, date of birth, Social Security numbers, call logs, billing records and subscriber information, according to the court documents.
HP's chair at the time, Patricia Dunn, had all charges against her dropped even though she ordered the company's security team to find out who was leaking information about private board of director meetings.

Dunn claimed she didn't know about the methods HP's investigators used to spy on journalists. After she was charged, Dunn argued that she was dying from Stage IV ovarian cancer, which was a factor in the decision by Santa Clara County prosecutors to drop charges.

Dunn remains alive today, four years later. She is married to William Jahnke, a former head of Wells Fargo Investment Advisors. The couple owns a winery in Australia, a home in Hawaii and property in Orinda.

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