August 15, 2007 2:47 PM PDT

CNET reporters sue HP for invasion of privacy

The fallout from Hewlett-Packard's boardroom leak scandal continued Wednesday as three CNET News.com reporters sued the computer maker, alleging that its investigation tactics amounted to an invasion of privacy and a violation of state rules on business practices.

Complaints were filed on behalf of reporters Dawn Kawamoto, Stephen Shankland and Tom Krazit in California Superior Court for the County of San Francisco. Kawamoto's husband, plus Shankland's wife and parents also filed their own suits Wednesday, according to court documents. All seek unspecified damages.

"As we have said since last fall, HP regrets these events, and we have apologized individually to those who were affected," said Ryan Donovan, an HP spokesman. "In an attempt to resolve this matter short of litigation, HP made a substantial settlement offer to the reporters, their family members and a charity of their choice. Unfortunately, rather than respond to the offer, they have decided to sue. HP is disappointed by their decision and will defend itself."

The suits come nearly a year after HP's investigation methods came under scrutiny from law enforcement officials and the federal government. The company acknowledged in September that several employees spied on the three News.com reporters, as well as on journalists from BusinessWeek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. The covert operation was an attempt to expose a media leak from the company's board.

The News.com reporters had previously indicated they were likely to file suit.

"Defendants conspired to and intentionally intruded into the plaintiffs solitude and private affairs," the reporters alleged in their suit. They accused HP of obtaining information about "their private affairs without their knowledge or consent."

Kawamoto and Krazit declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for CNET Networks, the publisher of News.com. Shankland was unavailable.

Asked to detail what kind of damages the plaintiffs were looking for, Kevin Boyle, their attorney, declined to discuss dollar amounts.

"The value of the case is going to be worth whatever (the jury) thinks it's worth," Boyle said. "We think the biggest component is going to be punitive damages, which we hope will deter HP and other companies from ever doing this again."

HP investigators are accused of obtaining confidential phone records belonging to the reporters and some of their family members by misleading phone company employees, a practice known as pretexting. In Kawamoto's case, HP investigators are accused of conducting surveillance of her movements.

In addition to HP, the suits name Patricia Dunn, the company's former chairman, and Kevin Hunsaker, a former HP attorney, as defendants. Following HP's disclosure of its leak hunt, Dunn resigned and Hunsaker left the company.

The three News.com reporters also accuse HP of intentionally inflicting emotional distress and of violating California's business code, specifically the state's prohibition against "unfair, fraudulent and deceptive" practices.

In the wake of the scandal, HP settled civil charges with the California Attorney General, agreeing to pay $14.5 million. HP also settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission in May that involved no monetary penalties or admission of guilt by HP.

Criminal charges were filed by the state of California against Dunn, Hunsaker and two others but they were later dismissed.

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
Dawn Kawamoto, reporter, Stephen Shankland, Patricia Dunn, suit

25 comments

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wait a minute...
Does anyone else find it ridiculous that news reporters are suing a corporation for invasion of privacy? Again, a reporter suing someone for looking to get personal information on them. Are you kidding me. They are accusing HP for doing the same thing they did using a leak from inside HP.
Posted by djarch (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Journalism 101
Nothing is more central to modern journalism than the double
standard. Along with a few crude and easily obtained skills,
journalism schools mainly teach arrogance and hypocrisy.
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Link Flag
let's get something clear here
If what has been reported about HP's investigators is correct, HP did not merely engage in an ephemeral "invasion of privacy." They reportedly violated federal law when surveilling reporters.

I know of no news organization that, as a general rule, countenances lawbreaking by reporters when pursuing a story.

If journalists want to find out what's going on inside a company, we talk to employees and board members. We evaluate other published reports. We hunt through court records. And so on.

We do not pull a black bag job by breaking and entering the company's headquarters, sneaking into the boardroom, planting hidden microphones, and stealing files from the office PCs. That kind of trespass is, and should be, a criminal act.

News organizations writing about the deliberations of the HP board did not do any of those things to get the story. The kind of parallel you're drawing simply does not exist.

[Disclaimer: I don't cover HP and have no personal knowledge of the current lawsuit or what tactics HP's investigators used.]
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
congrats... set a standard..
I doubt HP's snoopiness is any different than any other corporation from their league... Dunn had her priviledged simpathizers.. these corps use many of the same people with many of the same ideas.... so that said, I hope this doesnt discourage the intentions of honest journalism at Cnet. please set a standard.

a line needs to be drawn, that is clear. I am glad to see that someone from the leagal world has decided to take on the cause.

privacy = freedoom
Posted by wone111 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
CNET reporters should also sue so-called "detectives"
The contract for hire "detectives" that actually committed the crimes should also be sued to them a lesson or two. I can see those jerks now bragging to HP how they can spy on people with little or no detection, LOL. They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar and deserve to be punished too.
Posted by WJeansonne (480 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They can't sue them
Private detectives have carte blanche by the law in most states, so the reporters cannot really sue them. In most states, the only time you can sue a detective is when their actions lead to the death of you or someone close to you.
Posted by Leria (585 comments )
Link Flag
CHA CHING!!!!!
Such drama over there at HP.

Good way of sticking it to the man though. HP is in definite need
to shutter past business practices. And they were doing so well
turning over a new leaf after the internal email scandal, but they
definitely have to stop playing BIG BROTHER.

I mean who the **** do they think they are?
Posted by ServedUp (413 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Possible organisational conflict of interest?
It seems maybe this could have been approached in a different manner. Either making it in a press release as it feels more like some that I've read, or perhaps not SCREAMING the name of the company the reporters work for every few moments.

However, I'd like to say good for those reporters for sticking to their guns.
Posted by limefan913 (129 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What settlement did HP offer?
"HP is disappointed by their decision and will defend itself."

Against what? The truth. How do you defend yourself when you know you have done what you are being accused of?

I can see it now, in 2009 George W Bush will be the chairman of the board at HP, it only makes sense. He'll probably bring Gonzales and Cheney with him.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another sad day for journalism
Did they miss the story about the NBC reporter at DEFCON? The Valerie Plame affair? To Catch A Predator? There's little sympathy for reporters today - many will do anything to get a story. Maybe a few dollars for the statutory violation, but emotional distress - are you kidding me?
Posted by bdwalters (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Emotional distress is very real
Emotional distress is very real in cases like this. You think that no one can get your information, tap your phones lines, etc. unless they are a police agency or you give it to them, then something like this comes up.

The emotional distress thing is very real, and should not be ridiculed.
Posted by Leria (585 comments )
Link Flag
Hey bdwalters! Ever hear about PTSD?....
How about we put you through the same wire-tapping, surveilance, and all of the other invasions of privacy reaching out further than just the Journalist and gather up a profile on you then let's have this talk again.

I think you will have changed your opinion.

It's easy to see someone get out of a car that has handicap plates and think "that person is not handicapped". Disease and pain does not always show itself to the naked eye but it can be there none the less.
Just look at anyone that has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), what do you see? Do you see their nightmares? Do you feel their sense of anguish, loneliness, depression, etc?
We have soldiers coming back from serving their country with PTSD, do you write them off too?

This is the same situation. I have been there, done that and until you have you are just showing your ignorance.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Link Flag
Whiney Journalists are "outraged" of course
Journalists are always most outraged when something happens to journalists.

Example, a child killer could be set free, and journalism will just give the article a little paragraph somewhere.

BUT WHEN A JOURNALIST HAS THEIR PRIVACY VIOLATED?!?!

ITS * AN * OUTRAGE!!!!!!!!!

Now we get to hear all the ************ news stories tilted towards the journalists in favor of the lawsuit. You think C|Net can ever objectively cover an HP story again?
Posted by gerhard_schroeder (311 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Patricia "Dunce"
Patricia Dunce thought she was so smart playing cloak and dagger. I hope CNET reports make a bundle off their lawsuit. HP and other corporate thugs need to be taught a lesson, or they will just do it again. These people are no better than Mafiosa.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree
Reporters crying about their privacy being violated? That's hillarious! Give me a break! You won't find any sympathy here. Reporters violate everyone else's privacy at the drop of a hat to enhance their own careers. Though it does sound like HP stepped over the line, this is DEFINITELY NOT the place to find an unbiased article on the issue!
Posted by hounddoglgs (74 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Somebody please suggest a better news outlet!
Please, somebody give me a better online source for IT news! I think the only reason I read this crap anymore is for entertainment value. Certainly not for the quality of the articles! Seems to me that half the reporters at CNet are posting on this story, though no one has identified themselves as such.
Posted by hounddoglgs (74 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Conflict of interest
I'm not sure how wise it is for the news agency filing these lawsuits to be reporting on it as well. Unless they can give equal and unbiased time for HP to respond here as well, then this could compromise the case and CNET's credibility.

Whenever I've seen news agencies sued or suing another group, they remove themselves from reporting the story themselves as any and all posts would be considered jaded.

It just doesn't look good to the public.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is typical of CNet
I agree. Cnet has a reputation for biased or just plain crappy reporting. Usually they are just licking the boots of Microsoft or other advertisers, but this takes the cake.
Posted by hounddoglgs (74 comments )
Link Flag
News.com reporters suing? LAME
Why can't they just move on? Why do they need financial compensation? Was something taken from them? They still have their jobs dont they? Does news.com not pay its employees enough or is the employer just using this as a reason to get its name in the media more? One might claim their names were tarnished, but lets be honest. How many readers actually make not of who wrote the articles they are reading anyway?

KieranMullen
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://360oregon.com" target="_newWindow">http://360oregon.com</a>
Posted by kieranmullen (1070 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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