November 16, 2006 4:58 PM PST

HP discloses formal SEC inquiry into spy tactics

Hewlett-Packard disclosed Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission has moved ahead with a formal inquiry into the company's controversial investigatory practices.

"HP has been informed that the Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a formal order of investigation in its inquiry," the company said in a regulatory filing Thursday with the SEC. HP also said it has "received a request from the Federal Communications Commission for records and information relating to those leak investigations."

The company has already been under scrutiny from a variety of corners with regard to the tactics used during the company's investigation into the unauthorized release of information to the media. As part of that probe, investigators hired by HP obtained phone records for more than a dozen people using false pretenses, a practice known as "pretexting." In addition, investigators also employed physical surveillance and HP has said it sent a false e-mail tip with an electronic tracer to a CNET News.com reporter.

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HP said in September that it had received an additional request for information from the SEC, but, until Thursday, the company had not yet noted that it was the subject of a formal inquiry.

The company would not say when it learned from the SEC that its inquiry had been made formal. "We're not providing the date of when the request was received," said HP spokesman Ryan Donovan.

"We do not believe this represents an escalation or broadening of the investigation and are continuing to cooperate fully," Donovan said in an e-mail.

As for other inquiries into the spy scandal, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings in September, while the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of California and has also launched a probe into the matter. The California Attorney General's office has brought charges against five people, including former Chairman Patricia Dunn, who pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to four felonies.

The scandal led to Dunn's resignation as well as that of General Counsel Ann Baskins and two investigators at the center of the leak inquiry.

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