HP leak probe extended to employees

In an apology to employees, Chairman Patricia Dunn notes that two HP workers were also targeted. Special coverage: HP's boardroom drama

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
Hewlett-Packard's probe into news media leaks extended to the company's own employee ranks, the company's chairman said this week.

In a videotaped message to employees, Chairman Patricia Dunn said the same techniques that were used to obtain details about HP directors and journalists were also used on two employees.

"These techniques were practiced on a number of individuals including certain directors, two employees and a number of individuals outside the company, including journalists," Dunn said in a message on Tuesday, a transcript of which was provided by the company. An HP representative confirmed that two current employees had their personal records targeted, but would not identify the employees or say which records were accessed.

HP has come under fire for launching an investigation that employed the practice of "pretexting," or obtaining personal information under false pretenses. The company has said that phone records of nine journalists were targeted, as well as those of board members. Among those targeted were three CNET News.com reporters, and the records of one reporter's father were also included.

California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in a television interview on Tuesday that his office believes it has enough information to bring charges against people both inside and outside the company. Charges could come within a week, according to a spokesman for Lockyer, although there is no set timetable.

"They could come in a week; they could not come in a week," Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar told CNET News.com. "We are not confining ourselves to any specific timeline. We'll go when we are ready to go."

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco are also investigating, while a House committee has asked HP to turn over records. HP has said it is cooperating with all three investigations.

On Tuesday, HP said that Dunn would step down as chairman in January and turned over that job to CEO Mark Hurd. Dunn will remain a director. Director George Keyworth resigned from the board on Tuesday. Keyworth said in an HP press release that he was the source of a January CNET News.com story that had been at the center of the leak probe, but Keyworth also lashed out at the investigation.

"The invasion of my privacy and that of others was ill-conceived and inconsistent with HP's values," he said.

In her message to HP employees, Dunn apologized for the tactics used in the probe. Details of Dunn's message were noted earlier by the Financial Times.

"If there was any way I could course-correct some aspects of the investigation, I would," Dunn said. "I wish this had never happened. I apologize personally, deeply and sincerely to everyone affected in any way, either within HP or outside of the company."

In the message to employees, Hurd noted that the company has "completed a thorough investigation."

Hurd said that HP has taken action on recommendations made by its outside counsel, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Among the actions HP has taken, Hurd said HP is "engaging an external firm so that in the future, our investigative methods and processes are handled in a manner that not only complies with the law but also will be aligned to Hewlett-Packard's Standards of Business Conduct." An HP representative declined to say what type of firm HP had hired, or to name the company.

HP has also retained another outside law firm to meet with federal prosecutors. HP reportedly has tapped Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to represent the company in its dealings with federal prosecutors, according to the legal periodical The Recorder. According to The Recorder, the two sides met on Monday, with HP making a "proffer," that is an offer to talk about certain matters under certain conditions. An HP representative declined to comment on that report as well.