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HP Admits to "Pretexting," Non-Executive Chairman Patricia Dunn Falls on Her Sword

HP is now being investigated by the SEC, the FCC, the FBI...

In a series of whipsaw revelations over the last 10 days - on which more ink seems to have been spent than Enron got - it has come to light that HP's non-executive chairman Patricia Dunn (pictured), who is supposedly one of the most powerful women in America and was instrumental in removing HP CEO Carly Fiorina, set in train a search for a boardroom leak that involved getting the home and cell phone records of the HP board, nine journalists and two unidentified HP employees to see who was leaking to the press.

The technique used to get the phone bills, which HP has admitted to, is known as pretexting, which usually means pretending to be the person whose records you're after to get a copy of those records but however it's done it definitely means lying about who you are to get those records. There's a federal law against pretexting to get financial records, but other than that it appears it's a legal gray area.

However, we are all going to get an education on this point of law since HP is now being investigated by the SEC, the FCC, the FBI, the US Attorney for Northern California, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the grandstanding Attorney General of the state of California, Bill Lockyer, who went on television Tuesday night and proclaimed, "We currently have sufficient evidence to indict people both within Hewlett-Packard Company as well as contractors on the outside."

Who exactly he's prepared to indict and what exactly he's going to charge them with is unclear -since pretexting isn't specifically illegal even in California - but he's been talking about identity theft and computer intrusion, and his office was telling the press Wednesday that the first criminal charges could come down in a week, which is pretty darn fast considering that at close of business Thursday Lockyer hadn't - so far as anyone knows - taken any statements or even served a warrant to search the premises and examine the records of the Massachusetts outfit fingered for doing the pretexting.

Lockyer has identified the culprit as one Ronald DeLia, who reportedly turned private investigator and started a company run out of his house called Security Outsourcing Solutions after the pool hall-cum-restaurant that he was running went bust in 1997. Lockyer told the press DeLia's office will probably be searched early next week but that he's not sure yet whether the firm broke any laws. And if you find that that statement appears to contradict what he said on television that ain't nothing. The story to date is so fraught with contradictions it's enough to give a reader whiplash.

Anyway, whether or not Mr. DeLia will need a lawyer, the onus is still on the HP board - for which he or whoever the pretexter was was acting - its outside counsel, Larry Sonsini of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the most powerful law firm in Silicon Valley, and HP's general counsel Ann Baskins, who, according to HP's story so far, hired an outside firm to find the source of the boardroom leaks and that outside firm subcontracted the work to someone else, presumably DeLia.

Lockyer said Thursday he didn't know yet if HP hired DeLia directly or if he was a subcontractor.

So far this latest corporate "Grand Scandale" has cost Pat Dunn the chair of HP - but not her seat on the board and not until January when CEO Mark Hurd will get the title. And it has forced the resignation of HP's longest serving board member, David Packard protégé Jay Keyworth, who was fingered for the leak - though it's wholly unclear that he was responsible for all of them - and his buddy Tom Perkins, the Perkins in Kleiner Perkins, the great VC firm, who quit in apparent disgust back in May when HP's traffic in phone records was disclosed to the board at large and ultimately became the whistleblower, ostensibly ratting out the company for not disclosing to the SEC why he quit.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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