Lawmakers, U.S. attorney join HP leak probe

House committee and Justice Department investigate methods company used to nab source of media leaks. Complete 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
The Department of Justice has launched a probe into the techniques Hewlett-Packard used to identify the source of media leaks, and a House of Representatives committee has also requested the computer maker turn over documents.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California is "requesting information similar to that sought by the California Attorney General," the computer maker said Monday in a regulatory filing.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said last week that his office is investigating the company's use of "pretexting," the practice of essentially duping a company into revealing consumer records. HP has said that its investigators obtained the personal phone records of board members and nine reporters, including three from CNET News.com.

In a letter Monday to HP Chairman Patricia Dunn, meanwhile, the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee asked HP to provide certain information by Sept. 18. It asked for the name and identity of the outside company used by HP; contracts and other documents related to the investigation; a list of all third parties hired by HP or its investigation company; a full list of targets or subjects of the investigation; a list of all individuals that were part of or knew of the investigation; and a list of all those whose telephone records or other information were procured, or attempted to be procured, from Jan. 1, 2005 to the present.

In addition, the committee is seeking other information, including a copy of HP's letter of engagement with its outside law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, in regard to this matter. It has also asked for all reports prepared as part of the investigation, including any outside opinions HP may have received about the appropriateness or legality of the practice of pretexting. The committee also wants any draft and final board minutes that relate to either the leak investigation or the inquiry by HP's nominating and governance committee.

By Sept. 25, the committee also wants all records related to either the leak investigation or the governance committee inquiry, including but not limited to communications to or from the outside consulting firm, communications by or between HP employees or board members, and communications to or from outside counsel.

In the letter seeking records, the House committee expressed concern that HP sought out reporters' telephone records. "The Committee is troubled by this information, particularly given that it involves HP--one of America's corporate icons--using pretexting and data brokers to procure the personal telephone records of the members of its Board of Directors and of other individuals without their knowledge or consent," Chairman Joe Barton and three other members of the committee said in the letter.

An HP representative was not immediately able to comment on the House letter.

Reason for pretexting
The outside investigation company obtained the phone records as part of a probe conducted at the behest of HP Chairman Patricia Dunn, who was seeking to uncover the source of media leaks, including information that appeared in a Jan. 23 CNET News.com article on a board and management meeting to discuss the company's long-term strategy.

Dunn apologized to reporters on Friday but also stressed the damage that the leaks had caused to the company and its reputation. Dunn has thus far refused calls for her resignation, but said Friday she would step down if asked to by fellow board members.

The U.S. Attorney's Office issued a statement late Monday, but would not say specifically which federal crimes it was looking into. "The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI in the Northern District of California are investigating the processes employed in an investigation into possible sources of leaks of Hewlett-Packard Company confidential information," the federal prosecutors said.

HP said in its filing Monday that it is "cooperating fully with these inquiries." The company declined to comment further.

Word of the federal probe comes as HP's board is meeting to discuss the matter. Board members met Sunday and are expected to meet again later Monday.

Tom Perkins resigned from HP's board in May. He said the decision was made in protest of the board's investigation of directors.