I’m continuing to watch the dirt being unearthed as both the media and judicial system dig into the clearly illegal information mining methods used by the investigators hired by Patricia Dunn, CEO of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), to figure out who was leaking secrets from the Boardroom over the last few years.
It’s even become a subject of casual cocktail party chatter: I’m in Las Vegas for the World Internet Summit Internet marketing conference and even these eager entrepreneurs are cracking jokes and otherwise commenting on the tactic of illegally and unethically mining telephone records to unearth possible conflicts of interest and related. Ah, HP, what’s happened to ya?
The story just gets worse, too, as there are now both Californian and Federal prosecutors involved with this case, investigating exactly what transpired, who likely had knowledge of the illegal “pretexting” techniques used to identify telephone records, and whether there were any specific laws broken.
The New York Times has a very specific update on this today, Zeroing In on Sources HP Used, which identifies Action Research Group as the source of the phone records that were scoured by the HP executive.
[Frankly, even typing in that paragraph gives me the creeps. What has corporate ethics come to that this sort of situation comes to light and the perceived value of the company, as reflected in its stock value, isn’t even affected?
Consider: way back in April, HP stock was at $33.81, in July it was $32.25, in August it had moved up to $35.52 and today it’s at $36.48.] It’s really an astonishing turn of events. Go to the Action Research Group Web site and you’ll see that they ask “When a debtor leaves you with a cell number, PO Box, disconnected number or has changed his number to a non-published number leaving you with nothing current what do you do?”
Most likely, the intermediate was Security Outsourcing Solutions, a Boston-based security management firm that advertises — with some great irony — that it “provide small to medium size corporations and institutions with the same level of security currently available only to fortune 1000 companies.”
It’s a truly sad day when the CEO of a previously well-respected Fortune 500 company calls in these dubious sounding “information providers” and “small business security firms” without any counsel saying “uh, Patty, maybe this isn’t a great idea”. Instead, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has already called a hearing on the situation and requested that Patricia Dunn, Larry Sonsini (HP’s outside lawyer), Ann Baskins (HP legal counsel who apparently doesn’t know that you can’t get other people’s phone records without doing something illegal) and Ronald DeLia, (Principal at Security Outsourcing Solutions).
What’s far, far worse, however, is that Dunn is still on the Board at this point, though she’s stepped down as Chairman of the Board. Gadzooks! What message are we sending people about ethical lapses – with probable legal consequences – and whether they are really a problem or not?
I will say what I’ve said before: Ms. Dunn, it’s time for you to resign from the Board
Either you take responsibility for the actions of those under your supervision or you don’t. You’re not going to come out of this one clean, so it’s time to cut the ties and stop making the situation worse for Hewlett-Packard.