I've been pretty quiet in the H.P. paranoia attack but I thought I'd speak up after the recent NY Times article outlining the extent to which H.P. considered or actually did go to find their leaks. What one can gather from this is a few things:
1. Some people at H.P. were very concerned about the legality of their efforts
2. Some people at H.P. were very concerned about finding and punishing the person that leaked the information.
3. Some people at H.P. were unconcerned about the legality of their efforts.
Recently, we've leaks and spying have been center stage in the US. In the past, spying on American citizens was illegal without going through certain channels. Those doing such spying invoked the oft-used quote of the oppressor "these are extraordinary times and it's for your own good."
Now we find that such activities funnel down to some of our most trusted corporations. Due to the general trust of Bill Hewlett, HP has enjoyed a stellar reputation as large corporations go. I'd imagine he's not sleeping too well these days.
It is always interesting to see what people commit to e-mail.
The NYT reports:
Concern over legality was reflected in an e-mail message sent on Jan. 30 by Mr. Hunsaker, the chief ethics officer, to Mr. Gentilucci, the manager of global investigations. Referring to a private detective in the Boston area, Ronald R. DeLia, whom the company had hired, he asked: “How does Ron get cell and home phone records? Is it all above board?”
Mr. Gentilucci responded that Mr. DeLia, the owner of Security Outsourcing Solutions, had investigators “call operators under some ruse.”
He also wrote: “I think it is on the edge, but above board. We use pretext interviews on a number of investigations to extract information and/or make covert purchases of stolen property, in a sense, all undercover operations.”
Mr. Hunsaker’s e-mail response, in its entirety, said: “I shouldn’t have asked....”
"I shouldn't have asked." From any ethics director, that's a pretty distressing statement. "Please suspend all activity with Mr. DeLia until I can review his methods," would have been preferable. Would have looked a lot better in the New York Times...
Clearly, this was a program that had gone out of control. I don't think that many (certainly some) people at HP were deliberately being evil. But also clearly this will damage their credibility.
From the standpoint of community, we see here that in large institutions actions gather inertia and can go awry in a very bad way. Whether it's a leak investigation at HP, covering up abuse at Wal*Mart or putting FEMA in an organization obsessed with foreign terrorists. In the beginning, each of these things may have seemed like a good idea - but groupthink gives them a purpose beyond reason to often disastrous results.
When we have a community - social, corporate, political, whatever - the members of that community need to be vigilant about the direction of the community. Compare that direction to what is legal, what is within the community mission, and how the action will be perceived by other communities.
HP is learning the hard way that their corporate community intersects with many other communities in not always comfortable ways.
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