Verizon, Cingular sue HP investigators

On the heels of a similar suit filed Thursday by Verizon Wireless Inc., Cingular Wireless LLC on Friday sued private investigators used by Hewlett-Packard Co. to obtain phone records of a CNET journalist.

Cingular filed suit in a U.S. District Court in Atlanta against Charles Kelly and CAS Agency Inc. alleging they used pretexting — or pretending to be someone else to obtain phone records — to get information from Cingular about customer Dawn Kawamoto, a CNET journalist that HP was investigating.

Cingular also named “John Does 1-100” and “XYZ Corps. 1-100” in the suit to accommodate other private investigators that may not have been named who also were involved in obtaining information from Cingular, said company spokesman Mark Siegel.

“Sometimes it’s hard to identify who is in these companies and who runs them,” he said “We [used those terms] to accommodate for the vagueness of the industry.”

During Congressional hearings Thursday about HP’s investigation of journalists — including Kawamoto and writers from the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek — Kelly and CAS Agency were identified as investigators that HP used to obtain phone records information through pretexting, Siegel said.

The defendants called customer service agents posing as Kawamoto to obtain her personal information, and also gained unauthorized access to her online account information, Cingular alleged in its filing. They then sold that information to HP.

HP executives, including Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Congressional Committee on Thursday about an investigation of journalists that took place in 2005 and earlier this year in an attempt to find out who at HP was leaking sensitive information to the press.

The scandal has already forced Patricia Dunn to resign as HP’s chairman and sparked investigations by the California attorney general and the U.S. House of Representatives.

On Thursday, Verizon Wireless filed suit in New Jersey against investigators who used pretexting to obtain information about an HP director and that director’s spouse, and then sold that information to HP.

In its suit, Cingular is asking that a judge require the defendants to pay punitive damages to the company and be permanently restricted from: contacting Cingular for any reason, obtaining information about Cingular customers and advertising that they can obtain phone records from wireless companies about their subscribers. Cingular is also asking for the return of any information obtained about Cingular customers to the company.

Cingular’s Siegel said this is not the first time his company has filed suit against companies that have used pretexting to obtain customer information. “They call themselves data brokers — we call them data burglars,” he said.

The company currently has several cases pending against other investigators who have used pretexting, which is not technically illegal, although Cingular believes it should be, Siegel added.