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California Brings Charges in HP Spying Case

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California Brings Charges in HP Spying Case

Law

California Brings Charges in HP Spying Case

California Brings Charges in HP Spying Case

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California's attorney general filed charges Wednesday against the former chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard and four others. The five are accused of illegally obtaining telephone records of HP board members and reporters in an attempt to discover the source of leaks to the news media.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Patricia Dunn faces criminal charges. California's attorney general filed the charges against Hewlett-Packard's former chairwoman, and four others involved in the computer maker's spy scandal. All five are accused of illegally obtaining telephone records of HP board members and reporters. It was an effort to find the source of boardroom leaks to the news media.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Attorney General Bill Lockyer calls Hewlett-Packard one of California's most venerable corporate institutions. But he says when the companies investigators resorted to fraud to obtain people's personal telephone records, HP had lost its way.

Mr. BILL LOCKYER (Attorney General, California): In this misguided effort, people inside and outside of HP violated privacy rights and broke state laws.

HORSLEY: Lockyer brought felony charges against former HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, who ordered the leak probe, a former HP attorney who oversaw the investigation and three contractors hired to carry it out. Lockyer says there's no evidence that Hewlett-Packard's CEO Mark Hurd committed a crime, but he says the investigation is still open.

Lockyer offered some kind words for Dunn, who has advanced ovarian cancer and will undergo chemotherapy later this week. But he says the former chairwoman's illness has no bearing on her culpability.

Mr. LOCKYER: Also the person who orchestrated these illegal practices should be held accountable, not just those who carried them out.

HORSLEY: Dunn's attorney said in a statement the charges were brought against the wrong person at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. While Dunn admits she knew HP investigators were gathering telephone records, she insists she believed their tactics were legal.

Law Professor Robert Weisberg, who directs the Criminal Justice Center at Stanford, says that argument just might work.

Professor ROBERT WEISBERG (Director, Criminal Justice Center, Stanford University): The courts have been quite open to allowing somebody to claim, I just didn't anticipate that this particular statute could possibly apply to my conduct. And indeed, in some of those cases part of the defense is, I reasonably relied on advice from a lawyer.

HORSLEY: One of the lawyers Dunn relied on was former HP ethics chief, Kevin Hunsaker, who was also charged yesterday. The attorney general's office says Hunsaker sent an e-mail in the midst of the investigation asking how the telephone records were obtained. Tony Gentilucci, HP's former security chief, explained the method known as pretexting.

Contract investigators called the phone company under some ruse, he said, to obtain records the operator shouldn't give out. I think the technique is on edge, Gentilucci wrote, but above board. Hunsaker wrote back, I'm sorry I asked.

Prof. WEISBERG: One of those great e-mails you should never say. I mean he obviously was somewhat suspicious and then got a rather ambiguous answer. And then kind of admitted, hmm, I'm kind of sorry I asked. Like, now I feel a little tainted by even this ambiguous information.

HORSLEY: The contractor accused of actually gathering many of the phone records is Bryan Wagner of Colorado. Prosecutors say when California special agents arrived to interview Wagoner at his home two weeks ago, he told them: I was wondering when you guys would show up.

Wagner is a nephew of James Rapp, a pioneer in the pretexting business, who taught numerous others how to use fraud to obtain phone records. Rapp said last night his nephew had been an employee of his when Rapp's own business was shut down by Colorado authorities seven years ago.

Mr. JAMES RAPP (Former Private Investigator): There's no doubt that anyone that worked for me, Bryan included, would have known the risks and responsibilities involved in this business.

HORSLEY: Rapp says, back in 1999, he was the poster child for everything that was wrong about pretexting. Critics of the practice now have a new poster child: the leak investigation by Hewlett-Packard.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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