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As current and former Hewlett-Packard leaders will testify before a congressional panel Thursday, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey said that Congress must determine whether pretexting, or deceiving to obtain private phone records, is common among U.S. companies.
Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said Thursday's hearing, titled "Hewlett-Packard's Pretexting Scandal", should spur quick congressional action on privacy legislation. He has sponsored several bills clarifying laws against pretexting, which some people claim are unclear.
Federal laws prohibit people from impersonating others to gain private information for financial gain. Several lawyers have said that it is unclear whether federal laws outlaw the practice when the offending party does not gain something financially from the deception.
Since HP acknowledged that its investigation into media leaks involved the practice, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said that laws in his state prohibit it. He also said he had enough evidence to charge people inside and outside of the company. Lockyer has not filed charges yet. He has said he needs more time to unravel details of the probe. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are also investigating HP's probe and the details surrounding it. In addition, some people targeted by HP have indicated they are exploring their options for civil litigation.
"I'm deeply concerned about corporations, in this case HP, using private detectives and information brokers to obtain illicit access to telephone records and other personal information," Markey said. "Investors, competitors and Congress need to know how widespread this practice is, and whether companies are skirting or even violating the law by prying into people's telephone records or other personal information. We need to know how this happened, why HP and others thought this was legal, and how widespread this practice of spying on employees, directors, or the corporate competition."
Markey, who also serves on a consumer protection committee and is a member of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, said Congress should prevent private investigators from easily intruding into lives of "corporate directors and executives or average American families."
"Right now, there are bills pending before Congress that would outlaw purchases and sales of Social Security numbers, clarify existing prohibitions against pretexting for phone records, regulate information brokers and mandate stronger data security protections," Markey added. "I am hopeful that these hearings will spur Congress to enact these bills into law -- either in the lame duck session following the elections or next year."
People involved in the probe could refuse to answer questions and invoke their Fifth Amendment right to protect themselves from self-incrimination during the congressional hearing.
The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has requested several people to testify about the use of pretexting in HP's probe. They include: HP Senior Counsel Kevin Hunsaker, Computer Security Investigator Fred Adler, former HP Chairperson Patricia Dunn, General Counsel Ann Baskins, former Global Security Manager Anthony Gentilucci, outside attorney Larry Sonsini, Action Research Group owner and investigator Joe Depante, and Security Outsourcing Solutions operator Ron DeLia. CEO Mark Hurd also plans to attend.
Several other private investigators -- some reportedly investigated in relation to probe -- were subpoenaed this week.
The probe has caused three board members and some employees to leave the company and prompted apologies, stock fluctuations and general embarrassment for the computing and printing giant once seen as a model for other technology companies.
The hearing is part of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee's seven-month inquiry into data brokers and pretexting.