Patricia Dunn, Hp, and the Pretext Scandal

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The purpose of this paper is to examine both the utilitarian and deontological considerations behind Patricia Dunn’s decision to have private investigators check the telephone records of the board members of Hewlett-Packard, and the method they used to acquire the information. In addition, these same ethical considerations will be applied to the private investigators who acquired the telephone records, the website that published the information, and the person who leaked information. The author will then offer his opinion as to whether or not Patricia Dunn should have been dismissed for her actions.

Patricia Dunn, HP, and the Pretext Scandal
Hewlett-Packard is without a doubt a successful company. With products ranging from computers, to servers, to electronic test equipment, they are truly giants in the electronics industry. Unfortunately, they have had their share of scandals in the past few years. First, its’ former CEO, Carly Fiorina, was dismissed in the wake of missed profit projections and a not altogether popular decision to merge with computer rival Compaq. Then it pleaded guilty to acquiring the phone records of some of its board of directors, at the behest of chairwoman Patricia Dunn, through questionable means. Although she admitted she knew that the phone records were being obtained, she claimed she did not know what methods were being used to acquire them. The method used is called pretexting. According to an article appearing on, pretexting can be explained as follows; “Pretexting is essentially lying to get information that you want, or to get someone to do something you want them to do. In this case, it is likely that the investigator called the telephone companies pretending to be the customer (or a close relative) and asked for a copy of the telephone toll records - records of calls made and received.”

The reason Patricia Dunn directed that the telephone records of the directors, to include herself, be collected is because Hewlett-Packard had a problem with their information being leaked to the media. Once again referencing, “The HP board of directors has long been a leaky ship. During the embattled reign of Fiorina--HP's flashy CEO who was forced out nearly two years ago--a blow-by-blow account of a board retreat, held off-site to discuss the company's most sensitive problems, appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Furious, Fiorina laid down the law to board members: the leaks had to stop. For a time it appeared that the leakers, whoever they were, had gotten the message.”

Apparently, that message was forgotten as soon as Fiorina turned in her keys to the executive washroom. In January 2006, “the online technology site CNET published an article about HP's long-term strategy... it quoted an anonymous HP source and contained information that could've come only from a director.” ( This incensed Patricia Dunn, and the decision was made that the source of the leak would be discovered, even though she supposedly did not direct the method that would be used, as mentioned earlier.

At this time, Ms. Dunn’s decision to begin to pursue the source(s) of the leak can be examined, as compared to the utilitarian and deontological ethics theories. Regardless of the method that was used, or if she knew about the pretexting, Ms. Dunn had a responsibility to share holders, employees, and other board members of Hewlett-Packard. Based on this statement, the most logical point to begin our comparison is with the deontological theory. Although one could argue her ‘right’ to be in the position she was in, one cannot argue against the fact that members of Hewlett-Packard listed previously do have a right to expect certain things. The share holders have a right to expect a positive return on their investment. The employees have a right to expect that they will...
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