? MODULE 2: CASE Informational Privacy Without a doubt, we live in an environment where integrity, respect and good ethics play a fundamental role in the growth and success of many individuals and companies. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Patricia Dunn, former chairman of the Hewlett-Packard (HP) board of directors who was forced to resign her job.
She was at the center of a major controversy regarding her effort to investigate who from the board was leaking confidential information to the press about HP’s interest in buying another technology company, their corporate strategy, business plans, even their deliberations over who they would hire as CEO. This was a major issue as, not only was sensitive discussions of the board made public in the media, the level of trust between each board member was greatly affected. In a 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl and Patricia Dunn (CBS broadcast), “the Hewlett-Packard board of directors was described as a leaky ship.
Secret board deliberations were ending up in the press left and right, and it was decided that something had to be done”. That something one can argue was the most famous leak investigation since Watergate, and because of it, Patricia Dunn (who was chairman of the HP board of directors) was faced with criminal charges. The charges stem from the use of something called pretexting – where someone calls up the phone companies and impersonate someone else in order to obtain their records.
This technique is more than a simple lie as it most often involves some prior research or set up and the use of pieces of known information (for example, impersonation, date of birth, social security number -SSN) to establish legitimacy in the mind of the target. Pretexting, in my opinion, is morally wrong because it is deceitful and it invades the privacy of someone else regardless of how useful the act is in solving an investigation. Needless to say, privacy is a fundamental human right that almost every individual seeks to preserve.
For the Hewlett-Packard case, board members privacy was in fact invaded but some may argue that such invasion was for a cause. According to the deontological school of thought, the act may be considered the right thing to do even if it produces a bad consequence (as with the forced resignation of Patricia Dunn). For deontologists, the ends or consequences of the actions are not important in and of themselves neither are the intentions. Only the act itself is considered important. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, explain this theory of ethics more clearly. He argued that to act in the morally right way, people must act according to duty.
That was the case with Patricia Dunn, she believed she had a duty to find out who was leaking sensitive details of discussions of the board to the press. In her 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, she stated that many directors expressed to her their strong opinion that something had to be done to determine the source of the leak and to bring them to an end. In fact, majority of the directors told her during her first few weeks as Chairman that, “next to leading the board’s CEO search, coming to grips with HP’s famously leaky board should be her top priority”.
That was exaltly what Dunn did which was a major task in and of itself. Following on Kant’s argument, he claims, a person has a good will when he or she ‘acts out of respect for the moral law’. People ‘act out of respect for the moral law’ when they act in some way because they have a duty to do so. So, the only thing that is truly good in itself is a good will, and a good will is only good when the willer chooses to do something because it is that person’s duty. Thus, according to Kant, goodness depends on rightness. I think Patricia Dunn was simply doing her duty.
Looking at the HP case in more detail, it is obvious that Patricia Dunn did not know the full agenda of the private investigators and what was involved in finding out who was the source of the leaks. Dunn says. “The idea that I supervised, orchestrated, approved all of the ways in which this investigation occurred is just a complete myth. It’s a falsehood. It’s a damaging lie. ” She admit, however, seeking advice from Bob Wayman, HP’s then acting CEO , CFO and Director of Administration, on an affimative action to be taken on the problem of leaks in the company.
He was well respected and trusted by many in the company so based on his integrity, she (Dunn) had every reason to rely on his recommendations as to how the security issues at the board level could best be handled given that all the control functions of the company were under his oversight. Mr Wayman referred her to an individual within his organisation who then referred her to Mr Delia (private investigator) who then took the extraordinary step of spying on the records of all the directors (including herself) as well as journalists. At some point during the investigation process in 2005, she (Dunn) became aware from Mr.
Delia that phone records were accessed as a standard component of such investigations by HP. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Dunn stated that she was aware HP was obtaining the phone records of suspected leakers as long ago as 2005. But she did not know about the pretexting until late June, when she saw an e-mail to Perkins from HP’s outside counsel, Larry Sonsini and later acknowledged that HP’s tactics were “appalling” and “embarrassing”. Essentially, the investigation went on and the leaker of the company’s sensitive discussions was identified.
The public disclosure of the leaker at a board meeting did not ‘sit’ well with some members on the board as they thought it could have been dealth with differently without causing embarrasment for the leaker . This led to a lot of uphoar and Patricia Dunn was forced to resign. I think her forced resignation grew out of a personal dispute between her and Perkins ( who was also a well-known member of the board of directors and a close friend of the leaker) . To me, Patricia Dunn did what she had to do for the best interest of the company.
Hence, she should not have been forced to resign. Reading a statement by Hewlett-Packard’s Board of Directors, “Pattie Dunn has been a valuable director of HP for many years. We acknowledge all of the good work that Pattie has accomplished on behalf of HP. She helped stabilized the business during the CEO transition. She led the search committee for our new chief executive officer, which led to our hiring of Mark Hurd and the outstanding performance of the business over the last eighteen months. She served our board with distinction as chairman for the last year and a half.
The board felt it was important to find the sources of the leaks of HP confidential information, and she informed the board that she has taken steps to do so. We have never questioned her intentions, her integrity or her ethics.. we regret that we will lose her contributions to the board and appreciate that she has agree to our request”. It is evident that she had good character and was well repected. She accepted the resposibility to identify the sources of the leaks but she did not propose the specific methods of the investigation which means the premise on which she was forced to resign was not justified!
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