September 15, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

HP scandal reviving pretexting legislation

After news reports early this year revealed how remarkably easy it was to unearth someone else's phone records, politicians vowed quick action on new legislation.

"There needs to be a federal law that addresses (phone record theft), otherwise none of us will have any privacy left," Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in January. A few weeks later, Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, added: "I urge the full Senate to consider this measure as soon as possible."

That never happened. Even though politicians had introduced at least 11 related bills by March--all targeting the shady practice of telephone "pretexting"--each of the proposals began to collect dust after the initial flurry of media interest subsided.

Now, however, the burgeoning scandal involving Hewlett-Packard's use of pretexting against board members, employees and journalists, including three reporters from CNET, is breathing new life into the all-but-forgotten legislation. It's also given Democrats new cause to complain that Republicans have squandered their leadership position.

"We know this is not an abstract problem," Rep. Jay Inslee, a Washington Democrat, said this week. "We've seen with HP the situation where somebody in management basically hired a firm to do pretext calling to violate the privacy rights of the board members of this corporation to get their phone records."

The House of Representatives did approve one anti-pretexting measure (HR4709) in April by a unanimous vote. The bill generally punishes attempts to obtain fraudulent access to phone records with up to 10 years in prison. Unlike some other proposals, however, it would continue to permit pretexting that's performed by police or investigators hired by police.

related story
What Congress isn't doing to stop pretexting
A status report on 10 pretexting bills stuck in the legislative process.

The logjam arose in the Senate, which referred HR4709 to a committee, which in turn did nothing with it.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last week, top House Republicans invoked the HP scandal when criticizing senators for dragging their feet.

"Those concerns (about privacy) should have been enough to justify prompt Senate passage of the bill," the letter said. "However, as you will note from the attached recent press reports, the use of pretexting now extends into the corporate boardroom of a major publicly traded company." The letter was signed by Republicans F. James Sensenbrenner and Lamar Smith and Democrat Howard Berman.

Frist's office declined to be interviewed on the record. However, a Frist aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said that while it's a complicated topic, the HP flap could spur senators along.

The delay in the Senate has been caused not only by what critics call politicians' short attention spans and the lapse in media coverage--but also by a turf battle between two committees that have long been jealous of each other's prerogatives and authority.

The details go like this: The Senate Judiciary Committee has thrown its support behind one bill (S2178) that says pretexting would be a crime unless done by police or government contractors. The Senate Commerce Committee, on the other hand, is backing a rival measure (S2389) that focuses on civil fines and individuals' ability to sue for damages.

Because neither Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, nor Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, has managed to secure an obvious political advantage, the result has been a deadlock that's lasted for about half a year.

One Senate Commerce aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said senators' attention has shifted to the port security bill and that the intra-committee problems could probably be solved over the course of a few meetings. The Frist aide said that if an agreement could be reached, a vote could be scheduled very soon.

The closed-door squabbling among Republican committee chairmen has given Democrats some ammunition, which proved especially welcome with the hotly contested November election just a few weeks away.

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Pretexting == fraud
Why do we insist on calling it "pretexting", a term that relatively few really understand, when the real term is "fraud", something that everybody understands? According to Webster's dictionary, fraud is "Deception deliberately practiced with a view to gaining an unlawful or unfair advantage" which is exactly what HP has committed. Many other dictionaries (see define it similarly.

Pretexting sounds too polite and it makes it sound like we need laws to prevent it. We don't - fraud has been on the books for many years and the press should start calling it that.

Since the fraudulant acts were committed both by telephone and by email, these amount to wire frauds.

Posted by ewilts (46 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think it's just the same as:
a fool who is rich enough, is called excentric

It's not because it's committed by major companies that it's not fraud!
Posted by Gino Deblauwe (25 comments )
Link Flag
Federal Government==Inaction, No Conscience
They could care less unless it means there cushy job, which it doesn't.
They are far too busy introducing and passing legislation to make the 2% of upper income americans lives more comfortable.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Reply Link Flag
HP scandal reviving pretexting legislation
The following was sent to Federal and State Legislators as
needed in January 2006.



The Honorable Senator / Honorable Representative
331 Hart Senate Building or appropriate House Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
United States of America

Dear Federal or State Senator/Representative,

I have exercised my craft and profession for 40 plus years.
Please note that HP had to go out of state to find "an
investigator" willing to do the unstated but implied wrongdoing,
if any. I am sure there are investigators within California that
would happily have performed the service, but those
investigators are not members of the State Association (CALI) or
national associations such as The National Association of Legal
Investigators(NALI) nor the National Council of Investigative and
Security Services (NCISS)

I represented the National Association of Legal Investigators
(NALI) in legislative matters for 5 plus years, thereafter I became
the National Director for 2 terms. My tenure has ended. My
clarity of thought endures.

This letter speaks for no one other than the author. What is
suggested is a possible answer to assured consumer/
constituency personal privacy and purported identity theft and
other nefarious activities through alleged duped information
providers including so-called Private Investigators.

I am writing to express my deep personal concerns that Federal
and State Representatives of the people are attempting to
protect the US citizen/consumer, preclude identity theft and
stop the back door selling of information such as cell phone
records, the hard way. There is a much easier approach to
formulate or organize a system of control that will allow the
Professional Licensed Legal Investigator to continue to do what it
is they need to do along with keeping the American
Jurisprudence System humming along.

The licensed Legal Professional Investigator is a convenient
whipping boy for others very wrong headed thinking and
activity. In Michigan, Cingular Inc. refers to the Professional
Licensed Legal Investigator as an information terrorist, which is
simply not true. Such inflammatory oratory serves only to stall a
solution, not hasten adoption of remedial legislation.

Frankly, Professional Licensed Investigating is a very noble
career. They are the first, the very first to step up to the plate to
render assistance pro bono when a child goes missing or is
molested. Yet there is little ever published about this part of this
noble pursuit. There are far more examples of such
philanthropic activities by investigators than I can list herein. Are
there bad apples in this profession? Of course, just like there
are a few bad or easily compromised architects or incompetent
but licensed hairdressers! Each has its share of horrific horror

Recognize and accept there will always be those willing to sell
ANY information to ANYONE for the right number of dollars. The
best way to reduce to a minimum such illegal activity is to think
about what is best for the citizen/consumer. Most violations of
personal privacy have been committed by the unlicensed or at
the direct instruction of other purported professionals in
exchange for substantial remuneration. Instructions written or
verbal "not to violate any law" are always provided with a "wink"
of the eye and a shrug of the shoulders by the professional
making the assignment. This profession as well as others has
bad apples. When there is no potential for substaintial
additional profit, there is no wrongdoing&real or imagined.

The rogue information providers and investigators seek to
remain unregulated so they can continue to sell information to
anyone with a credit card or cash in hand. That should not be
allowed to continue. The necessary sanctions for the
wrongdoing rarely, if ever goes back up the information source
chain to the individual authorizing party or client or end
beneficiary of the information. That needs to happen as well.

Individual privacy must be protected. You as the representative
of your constituency cannot allow continued unrestrained access
to deeply personal and private information warehoused in
databases of information providers, aggregated and resold
regardless of accuracy or source and method of acquisition.
Pretexing has its proper uses and legitimate purposes within this
profession. Its unbridled use must be minimized, limited in
scope with the oversight of a court of competent jurisdiction,
either Federal or State depending on location of most likely
judicial influence.

Now for a possible solution! Some of my counterparts disagree
with this approach yet offer little in the way alternatives that will
allow the Professional Investigator to continue exercising the yet
protecting the privacy of the individual.

I have called this program the Special Master System (SMS) for
the sake of a better turn of prose. In short, it will mimic the
existing criminal search warrant process that has served the
United States Citizen/consumer so well for over 200 years but
remains the bane the outright criminal. There is no reason civil
wrongdoers such as tortfeasor's should not be subject to the
same scrutiny and investigative process.

It is time a court of competent jurisdiction be allowed to issue
civil search warrants exparte without notification to the subject
of the warrant if the court order is issued. The system can be
easily developed using the current judicial infrastructure. The
Professional Licensed Legal Investigator must be required to
make a demonstrative showing that any personal identifying or
historical personal information, including financial (in keeping
with the Federal Financial Act to prohibit flight of located funds)
is relevant to the effort/case at hand.

If unable to do so in an exparte hearing (applied for only by the
investigator) before a qualified current or retired but active
member of the Federal or State Judiciary (depending on the
jurisdiction in which the action is filed or to be filed) they should
not be able to obtain a single iota of information. Current
recognized public records need to have unique personal
identifiers redacted. The unique personal identifiers need to be
able to be reconstructed as well as linked on order of the court.

More importantly access to the individual citizens/consumers
personal information can be limited, only to be released to those
that have a necessary need as authorized by a member of the
Judiciary for a limited period subject to a time extension if
necessary. The consumers right to privacy can be almost

Further it will provide for severe sanctions (including loss of
license, jail, civil liability and a hefty fine) for those found to
have abused or mislead the system as proposed. This time the
sanctions will be substantial and go back up the information
source chain to the initiator and beneficiary of the information
wrongly obtained.

The system I suggest will be self-sustaining economically by the
filing fees that are charged and set by statute.

This suggested system will provide all but absolute protection
against unauthorized release of personal information via
information providers. It will also put to rest the concerns of
Privacy Advocates as well as other identity theft victims and
similar advocacy groups.

Understandably, there are additional details. That said you must
recognize this as a win-win proposal for all involved but far
more importantly, the privacy of the individual citizen/
consumer& your constituent.

I am available to meet and confer or testify before the necessary
committees or congress itself if there is credible interest and if I
am invited.

Warm personal regards,

Robert Townsend, CLI
Posted by rht1940 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Simple Solution
To combat pre-texing (fraud), call up the telco and demand to have passwords added to your accounts. I know for an absolute fact that AT&T will do it, and so will Cingular Wireless. Also, open online accounts with them as well so someone can't do that route to get your private data. As for a password, use something that it's garunteed that only you would know, don't write it down, and don't tell anyone. Pretexters will have a nearly impossible time guessing that password as the telco reps will not devuldge information without it.
Posted by Maelstorm (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
But what if telco representatives are offshored....
What happens when the Telco reps are offshored, and that country has no law against pretexting? Or those off-shored reps don't give a damn about password requirements, because they're immune to American laws?
Posted by missingamerica (6147 comments )
Link Flag
mid. terms an good old buddys
nothing going to happen until after mid. terms are in an see how many buddys are back now if no news people do not keep on it it will just set on a desk until it gets through away so stay on them no back down
Posted by paul zemp (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Legal action is needed.
The criminal who did the pretexting should be tracked down and
have their license removed, pay a fine, or even to go jail if this is
determined to be a criminal act.

Dunn should have the common decency to resign as she has been
caught authorizing fraud.
Posted by akieiwasaki (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Legal action is needed.
The private investigator who did the pretexting should be tracked
down and have their license removed, pay a fine, or even to go jail
if this is determined to be a criminal act.

Dunn should have the common decency to resign as she has been
caught authorizing fraud.
Posted by akieiwasaki (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Ruling Class
Wrong. The details go like this:

"C-NET announced today that it prefers enrichment of trial lawyers to lawful, constitutional, and court-approved search and seizure. Mental-midget [my opinion only] Arlen Specter and rapacious [also my opinion] Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens are putting their petty fiefdoms before principal and the common good. [http://Can't speak to that one, but I wouldn't be surprised.|http://Can't speak to that one, but I wouldn't be surprised.]"

All of Washington's Ruling Class takes care of itself, not just Republicans. For example, surely you are aware that the smarmy co-king of pork Robert Byrd joined Stevens to block legislation that would have exposed the secret world of federal contracting (

C-NET, Your bias is showing. But, of course, that is to be expected. You ARE journalists after all.
Posted by evelands (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

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