Is It The Job Of HP's Chairperson To Spy On Other Board Members?

from the seems-a-bit-extreme dept

Earlier today there were reports coming out that HP would not renominate director George Keyworth, though the reasoning was a bit weird, suggesting he was being kicked off the board for leaking info to the press. However, Newsweek has the full details. It appears the story goes back a few months to when well known VC, Tom Perkins, resigned from HP’s board for no clear reason. It turns out that Perkins had quite a reason, and he’s been pushing to get the SEC to publicly state those reasons. Back in January, published a story outlining HP’s vision for the future that apparently included some “inside info” that was only known by board members. Chairperson of the board, Patricia Dunn, was so furious about the leak that she hired some private investigators to track down the personal phone records of every board member — ignoring, of course, that it’s illegal to access such phone records. Of course, with phone records so easily available online (and the phone companies blaming the government rather than tightening their own security), it wasn’t long until Dunn tracked down Keyworth as the guilty leaker. She accused him at a board meeting, at which point Perkins questioned Dunn’s methods, wondering why she didn’t just ask the board member who leaked to admit it. He noted that spying on fellow board members was “illegal, unethical and a misplaced corporate priority.”

When the rest of the board refused to back him in this position, he resigned, though the reason was never stated publicly. Perkins claims that the reason should be on the public record — and, now, thanks to (look at that) leaks to the press, it is. As the Newsweek article makes clear, this raises all sorts of issues about corporate surveillance. We were just talking about how the tools were getting better, but we meant for watching customers, not other board members. HP maintains that using false pretenses to obtain others’ phone records is not, technically, spying — and therefore Dunn has done nothing wrong. However, now that this story has become public, it seems like Dunn may discover that the distinction is lost on HP shareholders who might wonder why she spent so much effort spying on other board members instead of helping guide the company.

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Comments on “Is It The Job Of HP's Chairperson To Spy On Other Board Members?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

According to the newsweek article, it *is* relatively clear:

“That meant calls from the directors’ home and their private cell phones.”.

Given the (long-time coming) emphasis on proper board oversight of managers, to see a board member stoop to use measures as this is absolute grounds for Ms. Dunns dismissal by HP’s shareholders!. I can only hope the next shareholder meeting provides that opportunity!

Leo Strauss (user link) says:

Patricia Dunn Must Go!

The Newsweek piece says that the board member when confronted said “Yes, I talked to the reporter. Why didn’t you just ask me?”

That is what is so outrageous about all this.

Dunn engaged in pretexting and surveillance of Board Members without even bothering to just ask them. That kind of paranoia, suspicion, penchant for illegality and hostility to Dave Packard’s “HP Way” should get the heave ho.

The fact that the CEO of Verizon is on the Board and Verizon has brought legal action against those who have tried to get its customer records using those same techniques is equally appalling.

HP for shame!! Boot Dunn and set an example.

Jonathan Schellack (user link) says:

HP Governance and Ethics

Apparently HP is (was) very proud of its business ethics, highlighting their ethics awards on their web site. HP’s site says: “A company cannot be a good global citizen without running its daily business responsibly. This involves making a commitment to good corporate governance and business ethics and putting that commitment into practice.”

I guess they aren’t a good global citizen anymore.

JSR says:

You also get sent away for...

…Conpiracy to commit a felony. Since the people Dunn hired used board members’ Social Security numbers to get access to their personal (home) and cell phone records, Identity Theft is a charge that can be more easily laid than pretext calling.

IIRC pretexting personal records has some gray areas that might make a prosecutor think twice before entering it as a sole charge, no?

Anonymous Coward says:

The other side of the coin

Not that one unethical move deserves another unethical move, but …

… board members should not be talking to the press about confidential information. Period.

What Dunn did was wrong! Snooping on board members is wrong!

But why are people not focusing on the fact that leaks are harmful. It gives away important business strategy to competitors.

Venture Capitalists could also take advantage of leaks to build competing startups and sell them back to the company.

Gary Bourgeault ( (user link) says:


George Keyworth is as wrong as anybody else in this. To make him look like some type of victim when he is unethically revealing private information is what started the whole fiasco.

This goes back to the deal with Compaq and Fiorina and there existing within HP two opposing factions.

HP needs to find someone that can help bring these factions together, or put Compaq up for sale and end the problem that way.

Either way, HP has some serious problems to deal with, as this public feud reveals.

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