FCC Questions AT&T Role in HP Scandal
By Roy Mark
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is launching a formal
investigation into AT&T's role in disclosing the personal telephone
records of HP board members and selected journalists to HP private
The FCC sent what the agency calls a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) to AT&T
late last week seeking information about the company's role in the
scandal embroiling the HP board of directors, sources familiar with
the situation told internetnews.com.
The sources also said the high profile HP case may prompt the FCC to
take some action on a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) launched
in February over telephone company efforts to protect proprietary
The FCC currently has open meetings scheduled for Sept. 26 and
AT&T and the FCC Monday refused to either confirm or deny the
LOI. Both parties cited policies of not commenting on ongoing
"It's straight forward questions about the incident," one source
familiar with the inquiry said. Another source noted the FCC has sent
"numerous" LOIs to telephone companies since beginning the February
As part of an investigation into media leaks by the HP board, the
company admits its private investigators used a technique known as
pretexting to snoop on records of directors' private telephone calls
Pretexters fool telephone company representatives into revealing a
customer's personal data by using bits and pieces of known information
about the customer.
HP admits its private investigators used pretexting to obtain the
calling records of its board members and the journalists.
While federal law requires telephone companies protect the calling
records of their customers, a cottage industry in data brokering is
blossoming on the Internet. The telephone companies maintain data
brokers are obtaining the information through pretexting.
"AT&T is committed to both protecting the privacy of our customers and
to weeding out those who fraudulently obtain access to customer
information," AT&T said in an e-mail to internetnews.com Monday. "We
are working closely with all law enforcement officials to bring these
data thieves to account."
On a separate legal front, California law enforcement officials are
asking ISP Cox Communications to disclose documents that could help
the state learn the identity of those who accessed the phone records
of the HP board members and the journalists.
"We believe a crime has been committed," Tom Dresslar, spokesman for
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said Friday.
An AT&T spokesman stressed Monday the company is aggressively moving
on its own to stop pretexters.
Last week, AT&T filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of California targeting alleged pretexters who have
accessed AT&T customer information without authorization from either
AT&T or the customer.
Last month, AT&T won approval from a Texas court for expedited
authority to issue "John Doe" subpoenas.
AT&T hopes the new John Doe legal tactics will aid the company in
seeking the identities from ISPs of pretexters who gained access to
approximately 2,500 AT&T customers.
"We will use every means available to vigorously pursue these
individuals who, through fraud, have attempted to obtain unauthorized
access to customer information," Priscilla Hill-Ardoin, chief privacy
officer for AT&T, said in a statement.