Are You Being Watched?_______
September 15, 2006
Hewlett-Packard's stock price has barely budged despite the recent spying scandal that forced board Chairwoman Patricia Dunn to resign her post on Sept. 12. But while investors don't seem to care about the scandal, board members clearly do. Directors across the country are likely questioning whether they should trust their chairs. And they should.
With increasing regularity, companies are relying on surveillance to monitor everyone in the firm, from cubicle to corner office to boardroom. More than 75% of employers monitor their workers' Web site connections, according to a survey by the American Management Association and ePolicy Institute. About half of all workplaces store and review computer files, and 36% track keystrokes and the time spent at the keyboard.
Don't think you're immune from spying just because you're a senior exec or a board member. While there are no surveys quantifying the surveillance focusing on C-level executives, it clearly makes sense to target those handling the most sensitive information. Espionage has gotten easier since anyone with access to Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) can investigate their co-workers or employees.
"When the stakes are high enough and [the tools are] accessible, people are going to use them," says Peter Earnest, executive director of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., who spent 36 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency. He adds: "More corporate espionage is on the horizon."
Companies have already increased security. Some firms are resorting to metal and bug detectors to scan employees entering a private meeting, says Cody Woods, general manager of Thomas Investigative Publications, which sells counter-espionage books and supplies. Others are banning cellphones and BlackBerrys at high-level meetings. Says Woods, "Businesses are becoming a lot more security conscious lately."
So is Congress. In the wake of the HP spying scandal, lawmakers like Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, are pushing laws that would prevent investigators from "pretexting," or posing as a customer to gain access to phone records. There's no specific law against it now, but that doesn't mean it's not illegal. Without a subpoena, a warrant or permission from the customer, the only way legally to obtain phone records is to dig through someone's trash, according to a spokesman with the California attorney general's office, which is investigating the HP case.
Even if a new law is passed, it might not make a difference. The bottom line: It's very difficult to protect yourself from someone who wants your personal information. "If someone is willing to break the law to get your personal info, there's almost nothing you can do to prevent them," says Steven Rambam, a private investigator in New York.
With its misdeeds, HP may have inadvertently done a good deed. Now, board members know that they might be under surveillance. That's the first step toward taking any preventative steps, says Earnest of the International Spy Museum. For employees, the good news is that over 80% of bosses notify their workers of any corporate spying. So if your company is spying on you, chances are you already know it.