Palo Alto-based Hewlett Packard is admitting tonight (Sept. 7) that the private investigators it hired to spy on its board members also surreptitiously acquired the phone records of several journalists in an attempt to find out who was leaking secret board room information. Bloomberg is reports that HP’s investigators obtained the phone records of nine journalists.

An unidentified company spokesman tells the Financial Times: “We are absolutely horrified that the records of journalists were accessed without their authorization.” The statement suggests HP is distancing itself from the detectives who it unleashed on board members earlier this year. The nine journalists haven’t been identified by HP, but the Chronicle says two of the reporters are Dawn Kawamoto of CNET and Pui Wing Tam of the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times says the records of its reporter, John Markoff, were also hacked.

The scandal emerged this week when HP disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that venture capitalist Tom Perkins resigned from the board due to an investigation of fellow board member George Keyworth, who was accused of leaking company information to the media. After leaving HP, Perkins complained that his phone had been “hacked” by private investigators. In the SEC filing, HP admitted that its investigators had used a technique called pretexting — where investigators pose as phone customers — to obtain calling records from the phone company.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer was quoted yesterday in several reports as saying he believes laws were broken. Last night KPIX Channel 5 reported Lockyer as saying charges will be filed in the case.

In addition CNET issued a statement saying it takes the hacking of its employees’ records seriously: “These actions not only violated the privacy rights of our employee, but also the rights of all reporters to protect their confidential sources. We are continuing to gather all relevant facts and to analyze appropriate next steps. We have requested that HP provide us with a full accounting of all actions taken in connection with this matter.”

A lawyer for the New York Times, David McCraw, said tonight: “We are deeply concerned by reports that the rights of one of our reporters was violated. To the extent that this is a criminal matter, we will cooperate with authorities to make sure any wrongdoing is prosecuted. To the extent it is a civil matter, we will pursue whatever legal recourse is available. We expect as an initial step that H.P. will make a prompt and full disclosure of what took place in regards to our reporter.”

SF Press Club News

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