More hard to believe details of HP's witchhunt emerge (and spyware tactic deemed legal)

Summary:News.com's Ina Fried and Jim Kerstetter have posted a nearly unbelievable account of the witchhunt involving reporters, HP directors, and HP employees that was ordered by HP chairwoman Patricia Dunn.

News.com's Ina Fried and Jim Kerstetter have posted a nearly unbelievable account of the witchhunt involving reporters, HP directors, and HP employees that was ordered by HP chairwoman Patricia Dunn. News.com, a sister-organization to ZDNet under CNET Networks, Inc.  has a bit of an inside track on the story given that three of its reporters were targeted in the probe.  Yesterday, the reporters received more details regarding the extent of HP's investigation.  As it turns out, the investigation began much earlier than most thought to be -- perhaps as far back as the Summer of 2005. The assumption until now was that the investigation was prompted by a news story that was published by News.com in January 2006.  But News.com reporter Dawn Kawamoto was apparently under surveillance -- an operation that was codenamed KONA II and that included false tips and physical surveillance -- for much longer than that. 

Many of the gory details in Fried and Kerstetter's report will make you gasp as you say "the gall!" But the two points that stand out in my mind are had to do with the false email tips and an honor that Patricia Dunn is receiving (yes, you read that right).  Regarding the false email tips, Fried and Kerstetter reported:

A later e-mail from that same address included an attachment believed to have contained marketing information about a new HP product. That attachment, government investigators told Kawamoto, is believed to have had the ability to track the e-mail, notify the sender if it was opened, and tell the sender if the e-mail was forwarded and to which IP address it had been forwarded. Sending Kawamoto an attachment like that would not have been illegal, government investigators said, noting that the technology used was not believed to have been a keylogger loaded onto the computer.

Not illegal?  I'm not so sure about that. I'm sure there are some clever lawyers out there than can find some illegality in that practice.  And if it's not illegal, then perhaps it should be. At the very least, if an e-mail sent to us is enabled for any sort of observation by the sender, some form of disclosure should be required.

But, what really got under my skin came at the end of the report.  Wrote Fried and Kerstetter:

On Wednesday night, Dunn is expected to be inducted into the Bay Area Business Hall of Fame by the Bay Area Council, a local business and civic organization.

No this is not a joke. Despite what appears to be a severe lack of contrition on Dunn's behalf, she's on track to receive the honor anyway, this turning the Bay Area Council into a laughing stock.  Perhaps she's deserving of the honor.  But it would be more like how Pete Rose deserves to get into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. He certainly deserved the blacklisting he got immediately after it came to light in the late 80's that he'd been betting on baseball games. But now, almost two decades later, after he has spent a lot of time repenting and owning up to that mistake, maybe Rose finally deserves to be recognized for his amazing achievements over his foibles.

But Dunn, on the heals of PatriciaGate, comes across to me as being unrepentant for the actions taken on her behalf and as far as I'm concerned, now is not a good time to bestow any honors upon her. The Bay Area Council has another honoree (retired Chevron Chairman/CEO George M. Keller) to hoist onto its pedestal at tonight's gala event. They should stick with him.  If you feel the same way, trying e-mailing the BAC's vice president of communcations John Grubb at jgrubb@bayareacouncil.org (taken from the newsroom page on the BAC's Web site).

Topics: Hewlett-Packard

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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