CNET reporters sue HP for invasion of privacy

Suit comes nearly a year after Hewlett-Packard acknowledged that investigators hired by the company obtained journalists' private phone records.

The fallout from Hewlett-Packard's boardroom leak scandal continued Wednesday as three CNET News.com reporters sued the computer maker, alleging that its investigation tactics amounted to an invasion of privacy and a violation of state rules on business practices.

Complaints were filed on behalf of reporters Dawn Kawamoto, Stephen Shankland and Tom Krazit in California Superior Court for the County of San Francisco. Kawamoto's husband, plus Shankland's wife and parents also filed their own suits Wednesday, according to court documents. All seek unspecified damages.

"As we have said since last fall, HP regrets these events, and we have apologized individually to those who were affected," said Ryan Donovan, an HP spokesman. "In an attempt to resolve this matter short of litigation, HP made a substantial settlement offer to the reporters, their family members and a charity of their choice. Unfortunately, rather than respond to the offer, they have decided to sue. HP is disappointed by their decision and will defend itself."

The suits come nearly a year after HP's investigation methods came under scrutiny from law enforcement officials and the federal government. The company acknowledged in September that several employees spied on the three News.com reporters, as well as on journalists from BusinessWeek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. The covert operation was an attempt to expose a media leak from the company's board.

The News.com reporters had previously indicated they were likely to file suit.

"Defendants conspired to and intentionally intruded into the plaintiffs solitude and private affairs," the reporters alleged in their suit. They accused HP of obtaining information about "their private affairs without their knowledge or consent."

Kawamoto and Krazit declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for CNET Networks, the publisher of News.com. Shankland was unavailable.

Asked to detail what kind of damages the plaintiffs were looking for, Kevin Boyle, their attorney, declined to discuss dollar amounts.

"The value of the case is going to be worth whatever (the jury) thinks it's worth," Boyle said. "We think the biggest component is going to be punitive damages, which we hope will deter HP and other companies from ever doing this again."

HP investigators are accused of obtaining confidential phone records belonging to the reporters and some of their family members by misleading phone company employees, a practice known as pretexting. In Kawamoto's case, HP investigators are accused of conducting surveillance of her movements.

In addition to HP, the suits name Patricia Dunn, the company's former chairman, and Kevin Hunsaker, a former HP attorney, as defendants. Following HP's disclosure of its leak hunt, Dunn resigned and Hunsaker left the company.

The three News.com reporters also accuse HP of intentionally inflicting emotional distress and of violating California's business code, specifically the state's prohibition against "unfair, fraudulent and deceptive" practices.

In the wake of the scandal, HP settled civil charges with the California Attorney General, agreeing to pay $14.5 million. HP also settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission in May that involved no monetary penalties or admission of guilt by HP.

Criminal charges were filed by the state of California against Dunn, Hunsaker and two others but they were later dismissed.

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

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