Arik Hesseldahl

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Former HP Chairman Patricia Dunn, Central Figure in Pretexting Case, Dies

Patricia Dunn, the former HP chairman who was the central figure in the 2006 spying scandal that rocked the company’s boardroom early during the tenure of then-CEO Mark Hurd, has died, sources confirm to AllThingsD. She was 58 and had undergone treatment for ovarian cancer.

Dunn first joined HP’s board in 1998 and took over the chairmanship in 2005, succeeding ousted CEO Carly Fiorina. Dunn sought to rein in a board with a reputation for leaks to reporters.

In early 2005, following a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal about discussions held at a special HP off-site strategy meeting that included details known only to directors, she sought to get to the bottom of the leaks and discover who among HP’s directors was talking to reporters.

In 2005 Dunn hired private investigators, and some of them used a method called pretexting, in which someone impersonates the owner of a cellphone in order to get access to billing records. Not only were HP directors targeted by the effort, but also journalists for The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek Magazine and CNet News who covered HP. The technique proved illegal, though she later testified to Congress that she had believed the investigators had used only legal methods to get the information.

Dunn’s role in the scandal led to felony criminal charges pressed by California’s then attorney general, Bill Lockyer, for wire fraud, unauthorized use of computer data, identity theft and conspiracy. She was one of four charged. Offered a chance to plead guilty to misdemeanor, she opted instead to fight the charges and was determined to clear her name, despite the fact that she was about to undergo chemotherapy treatment. A judge finally threw out the charges in 2007.

The controversy and criminal charges led her to resign her seat as HP chairman on Sept. 26, 2006, and she was replaced by Hurd, who served in that role until his resignation last year.

Update:
HP just sent the following statement:

Pattie Dunn worked tirelessly for the good of HP. We are saddened by the news of her passing, and our thoughts go out to her family on their loss.

Dunn’s written testimony to a House Committee on the scandal is below, via Scribd.

09282006 Testimony Dunn


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First the NSA came for, well, jeez pretty much everybody’s data at this point, and I said nothing because wait how does this joke work

— Parker Higgins via Twitter