U.S. legislators signaled Thursday that they will hold Hewlett-Packard’s (HP’s) feet to the fire during House testimony on the company’s pretexting scandal, while former General Counsel Ann Baskins formally declined to answer any questions by invoking her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
Baskins resigned her position Thursday, effective immediately. Subsequent witnesses, including outside investigator Ronald DeLia of the investigation firm Security Outsourcing Solutions, were also refusing to testify at press time based on their Fifth Amendment rights.
HP’s use of detectives who obtained people’s telephone records under false pretenses while investigating press leaks from its board will be in the spotlight. The matter caught the attention of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, of which some members have been actively promoting legislation that would explicitly criminalize tactics such as those used in the HP investigation.
The actions taken by HP were “not the act of one rogue employee,” said Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington state, indicating that at least some of the politicians might not accept the characterization of the events at HP that its chief is set to offer before the subcommittee. In a written version of his testimony made available earlier, President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd called the scandal the result of a “rogue investigation.”
Inslee and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee have co-authored legislation that would prohibit the obtaining of customer information from telecommunications carriers by false pretenses, and the sale or disclosure of such records obtained by false pretenses.
In her opening remarks, Blackburn, a Republican, called pretexting a purposeful effort to deceive and defraud in order to get information one is not entitled to have. “How prevalent is it in the corporate boardroom?” she asked.
Criminalization of pretexting needs to extend to all forms of telecommunications, said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, adding that legislation must address records ranging from conventional telecom through mobile and Internet telephony. She called for a “comprehensive legislative approach” to cover all sectors where pretexting could occur.
-Elizabeth Heichler, IDG News Service (Boston Bureau)
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