Richi Jennings

HP's Bill and Dave roll in their graves (and pop-ups)

September 11, 2006 5:59 AM EDT
Step aside for IT Blogwatch, in which the HP board spying scandal rumbles on. Not to mention the pop-up potpourri for September...

[Your humble Blogwatcher makes no apology for covering the latest on the HP board mess. If you've been living under a rock for the past week, take a look at Thursday's IT Blogwatch.]

Robert Mullins tells us about an extraordinary board meeting:
Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP)'s board of directors took no action at a special Sunday meeting and will reconvene late Monday to continue discussions about the scandal that has pre-occupied the company over the past week. The board held a teleconference Sunday morning for several hours, according to a brief company statement, to discuss reports that outside investigators, acting on behalf of the board, obtained phone records of directors and journalists to trace the source of information leaks regarding board meetings.

The investigators' tactic of disguising their true identity in order to gain access to customer records, called "pretexting," may be in violation of the law and the California Attorney General's office is investigating the case.

HP gave no reason for the move to adjourn Sunday's meeting to Monday.
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HP Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd, in a letter to company employees released late Friday, urged them to keep focused on their work.
Frank "+++ATH" Hayes opines that Patricia Dunn should have known better:
As HP's spying mess continues to spiral out of control, I've already put in my two cents' worth. But in the course of researching next Monday's column, I came across a real head-scratcher. When you spy on your own board members, you're facing possible civil and criminal legal action. When you fudge your board minutes, you're looking at trouble from the SEC. But when you hire someone to lie to access the home phone records of reporters from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, you've just about guaranteed you'll get a whirlwind on the worst possible kind of publicity.

Patti Dunn should have known that. Not just because she's an investment banker and the chair of HP's board of directors, two jobs that always include putting the best public face on the company for the press. But also because Dunn, of all Fortune 500 chairmen, has the best reason to understand that if you go after reporters, they'll go after you.

She graduated from Cal Berkeley in 1976 with a degree in journalism.
Rob Hyndman fingers HP's general counsel:
As the saga deepens (company not only shocked, but now also “embarrassed”), calls for Dunn’s resignation, if not yet a symphony, are certainly a chorus. The FCC is now involved. A board meeting tomorrow may decide Dunn’s fate.
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“Not generally unlawful” runs against the general grain of “legal expert” commentary that has been quoted in HP stories over the past few days, and it certainly runs into the brick wall of Viet Dinh’s comment I quoted yesterday ... and of course the opinion of the California AG, the guy with the jail: “A crime was committed.”
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Still, the more important legal issue on pretexting appears to be what legal advice, if any, was provided before the pretexting occurred, which, at least for now, takes us back to the General Counsel. The media has now specifically picked up on [Ann] Baskins’ role. The NYT reports that her office led one of the investigations that involved pretexting ... Dunn is also insisting that at all times she relied on the advice of counsel (inside or outside?)
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Notably, CEO Hurd seems to be hinting that someone may go (”we will take the necessary action”).
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HP is steadfastly refusing to identify the outside contractor that did the pretexting. Why? Everyone involved in this case is pointing the finger at someone else, why not point blame where it at least partly belongs?
Paul Kedrosky hardly knows where to start:
Let's take on [Dunn's] more egregious claims, starting with "What me no pretexting".

So, she is saying the investigators told her that phone records were obtained, but that didn't trouble her? That makes this whole pretexting thing a smokescreen. Patty, you had an investigator give you telephone records for board members ... That's the problem, not pretexting in and of itself.
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Her investigation was out of line. Dunn might imagine it nice if the leaker had fallen on his own sword and saved her from having to conduct an overreaching investigation, that doesn't absolve her from responsibility from having been complicit in that investigation.

I'm guessing Dunn has vanishingly low board support right know, and my bet is she almost certainly will take the fall this weekend after the board session. While it might be fun to watch, this is shameful through and through.
Scoble, R. keeps coming back to this one:
Why did I care that HP’s board of directors pushed the boundary of where private information could be used? Because private data must be held sacrosanct. Private data is an electric rail. Use it properly and it will power your business. Use it improperly and you should get fired. There’s no other way to put it. It should be that clear. It IS an electric rail.
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I don’t see anything that makes me want to turn back, even a little bit, from my point that Dunn should be done.
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Is this story boring yet? I really don’t care if I lose every single reader I have because I keep rambling on about this story ... I’ve been reading very carefully trying to find a reason to take Patricia Dunn’s side. I’ve been talking with dozens of people behind the scenes.
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I tried to go to the beach and see if I could get away from the smell that was coming out of the HP board room. Nope, I couldn’t, it was such a strong smell that it did reach all the way across the Santa Cruz mountains. Oh, or maybe that was the rotting seaweed on the beach. I couldn’t really tell the difference.
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Just wanted to make it clear that this isn’t about [HP employees]. Just about one board member who thought that the ends justified the means. If she’s allowed to stay, though, she’ll spread her cancer throughout HP and stain the entire organization. So, it’s time for the good people of Hewlett Packard to stand up and do the right thing.
Pamela Jones groks:
[Dunn] didn't even know what the word pretexting meant until June or July, she says, and she thinks it's "absolutely appalling". So, the fingerpointing begins ... It's all the fault of the investigators, or maybe just the subcontractors they hired. The lowest guys on the tottering totem pole did it. Natch. All alone. Without authorization from a living, breathing soul. California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer said that would be HP's obvious defense, that it wasn't them, that it was the data brokers that broke the law. And so it comes to pass.
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Now, on when Ms. Dunn discovered pretexting was going on, methinks she knew at least that phone records were obtained from the surveillance, and she knew that much by May 18, when she revealed it to the board and Mr. Perkins loudly protested for 90 minutes, according to his account. No? Am I missing something? How did she think they got that information? The stork brought it? She didn't want to know the details? Even to reassure herself the information was accurate? And when Perkins protested, she didn't look into it immediately?
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I hasten to remind everyone that no one yet knows for sure who is legally responsible. Those out-of-control investigators -- they're the bad guys here so far, we're led to believe, and it may even be true, but I notice still justifications for what happened in these words, from [Dunn]
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HP itself may be on the hook, not just the databrokers or individual board members or lawyers or whoever it turns out did the deed. And that's on top of the two laws I showed you yesterday that Lockyer earlier cited.
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Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at blogwatch@richi.co.uk.