Hewlett-Packard seemed to forget common ethics

By Freedom Newspapers

Hewlett-Packard long has been considered one of the premier American companies, especially because of what it called “the H-P Way.”

In his 2001 book, “Good to Great,” about the special factors of the best-performing companies, author Jim Collins wrote that the H-P Way “reflected a deeply held set of core values that distinguished the company more than any of its products,” which include computers, printers and other high-tech equipment. The values included “respect for the individual.”

As the ongoing scandal over “pretexting” shows, the H-P Way seems to have been forgotten by some company management, especially Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, who last week agreed to give up her post.
Briefly, “pretexting” involves using false pretenses to obtain phone records. Under Dunn, the company, or agents hired by it, allegedly used pretexting to obtain the private phone records of corporate board members, who supposedly were leaking H-P information to the media, and the phone records of journalists.

It should be noted that this matter is not about using company equipment. Companies obviously have the right to see which numbers are being called by company phones. Rather, this involves the private phone records of board members and journalists.

“This is obviously not kosher,” Tibor Machan said; he is a professor of business ethics at Chapman University and an adviser to Freedom Communications Inc., this newspaper’s parent company. “Any attempt to break through to the phone records is like a break-in at a home. It’s unethical. It’s snooping when you’re not allowed. In a way there is a possible criminal issue involved.”

That very possibility is now being investigated, by both California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the FBI.

Lockyer told the Orange County Register newspaper that the California Constitution includes a right to privacy, and that, in the H-P case, possible criminal wrongdoing existed in falsely assuming someone else’s identity, getting “records from a public utility without authorization” and identity theft.

He scoffed at a Sept. 15 Los Angeles Times report that top H-P officials may be insulated from the actions of subordinates. He said his office now has “enough to indict people, both inside and outside H-P,” although the investigation will continue at least for several more weeks.
Lockyer also is working with the attorney general of Massachusetts, Tom Reilly, because that state is home to an H-P unit involved in the matter, as well as a security investigator H-P reportedly used in its pretexting action, Ronald R. DeLia.

However the legal matter shakes out, clearly H-P’s leadership has gone down the wrong path, away from not only the H-P Way but from common ethics. Snooping on people’s private phone records is something that simply should not be done.