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Pretexting is a criminal offence of infringing the privacy of a person or a company through impersonation to obtain private information for personal interests. Usually, pretexters mislead their victims to disclose sensitive and private information with the intention of using the information for maligning or impersonation. Since companies have private information that they do not want to share with media and other companies, they are prone to pretexting. For example, the chairperson of Hewlett-Packards (HP), Patricia Dunn, could not understand how information from her company was leaking to the media.
According to Kaplan (2006), Patricia Dunn became angry when she realized that some members of the board had been leaking information to the media. Consequently, she planned to conduct an investigation to establish the identity of the involved perpetrators (p.40). When Mark Hurd joined HP as the chief executive director, Patricia Dunn felt uneasy, and she consequently schemed to investigate his director’s records and interactions with other companies, including the media, to establish the source of the leakage, which seemed to threaten the privacy of HP. Thus, since pretexting is a criminal offence, this essay argues from the utilitarian and deontological perspectives that, HP management should have forced Patricia Dunn to resign.
According to ethical theory of utilitarianism, one should only act to promote pleasure and minimize pain to the greatest number of people. In essence, an action is ethical if its consequences generate greatest benefits to many people. Thus, in the case of pretexting, Patricia Dunn was after selfish interests of maligning board of directors. Being angered by the continued leakage of information from HP, Patricia Dunn plotted to spy phone records and emails of the board members to establish the identity of people who leaked sensitive information of HP to the media.
According to Kaplan (2006), Patricia Dunn confessed that Hp had been spying its members of the board since 2005 after having personal conflict with Tom Perkins (p.40). Hence, from the utilitarian perspective, Patricia Dunn wanted to achieve personal interests by spying how the board of directors interacted with other companies and media. Therefore, spying on the directors had no benefits to the board, except Patricia Dunn who wanted to malign the board members; therefore, the HP management should have compelled her to resign because she pursued personal interests at the expense of members’ privacy.
Patricia Dunn has been concentrating on management and regulatory issues that HP is facing since she wanted to create a board driven by process and not personality. Given that the problem, which the board experienced, was leakage of sensitive information, Patricia Dunn thought the best way to curb it was through pretexting. From the utilitarian perspective, management and regulatory issues that Patricia Dunn was grappling with had no significant importance to board or HP. Arrival of new chief executive direction, Mark Hurd made Patricia Dunn feel uneasy since she wanted more powers to control not only the board, but also the whole company.
Kaplan (2006) argues that, Patrician Dunn concentrated on pointing inconsistencies that existed in Corporate Directors Handbook and HP’s by laws, which became dominant agenda in board meetings (p.40). Patricia Dunn brought the discussion of the inconsistencies to control directors and chief executive officer, for she was the chairperson. Hence, the scheme of pretexting did not benefit the company but rather Patricia Dunn. Hence, HP management should have forced Patricia Dunn to resign for he used her position to advocates for selfish interests rather than interests of the company.
Moreover, Patricia Dunn perceived that HP’s problems emanated from the media rather than from the company. Hence, she thought that an effective way of reducing HP’s problems is by controlling leakage of information into the media. According to Kaplan (2006), realizing that information leakage arouses emotions and triggers conflicts in company, Patricia Dunn hired security experts to conduct investigations by spying phone records of journalists and board of directors (p.40).
Since pretexting benefited Patricia Dunn in a bid to keep her secrets regarding the company, it denies the public from knowing and accessing reliable information about the company. Thus, from the utilitarian perspective, it is unethical for Patrician Dunn to conduct pretexting and prevent greater number of public from accessing invaluable information of the company. Hence, HP management should have compelled her to resign because she concentrated on her interests without considering public interests.
Deontological theory of ethics perceives morality of human actions from the point of adherence to rules and regulations. In this case, actions of Patrician that led to pretexting are unethical because they are against individuals rights to privacy. An individual has the inalienable right to privacy no matter what circumstance of employment.
Despite the fact Patricia Dunn was intending to protect secrets of the company, she violated individual’s rights to privacy by allowing security experts to spy phone records of both journalists and board of directors. According to Kaplan, Tom Perkins termed pretexting as unethical, illegal and without any importance to the company (p.40). Therefore, Patricia Dunn is guilty of hiring security experts to conduct pretexting, which infringes individual privacy; hence, she should have resigned and faced charges.
Additionally, HP management should have compelled Patricia Dunn to resign because she acted contrary to company’s regulation and priority. As a chairperson, Patricia Dunn should have focused her energies on planning and executing activities that are of priority to the company, but she only concentrated on spying board of directors and journalists with a view of preventing leakage of information. Corporate regulations do not deny media from accessing information or writing about a company because they support freedom of the press.
Kaplan (2006) contends that, the intention of pretexting does not matter because the outcome is criminal charges (p.40). Criminal charges of pretexting do not only violate an individual’s rights, but also corporate regulations. Corporate watchdogs had given Hp high marks for superb performance and independence, but the fraud of pretexting tainted its reputation. Therefore, since Patricia Dunn went against HP’s regulation by hiring security experts to conduct pretexting and deny media from accessing valuable information, HP management should have forced her to resign immediately when it realized her illegal actions.
Since pretexting is a criminal offence, HP management should have compelled Patricia Dunn to resign. Based on the utilitarian perspective, pretexting benefited Patricia Dunn only, for she wanted to control information and keep her secrets. In contrast, pretexting caused immense harm to the board of directors, the company, and the public, which form greater number of people. Hence, benefits of pretexting that Patrician gained do not outweigh its negative impacts on board, company and public. Regarding deontological perspective, the act of pretexting is against the individual’s rights to privacy and company’s regulation of searching information and controlling privacy. Thus, both utilitarian and deontological perspectives of ethical theories confirm that, Patricia Dunn acted unethically; hence, she should have resigned.
Kaplan, D. (2006). Suspicions and Spies in Silicon Valley: In a Business Saga, How Pattie Dunn’s Obsession with Trying to Root Out the Source of Press Reports Ended with the Covert Tracking of Directors’ Phone Records. Newsweek, 148(10), 40.