Patricia Dunn, the former chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard's board who became a controversial figure in the company's "pre-texting" scandal, died Sunday at the age of 58 after a long battle with cancer.
In 2005, and again in 2006, Dunn hired a team of third-party investigators to pinpoint the source of ongoing leaks of confidential company information. In the 2006 probe, investigators targeted HP board members, employees and journalists, and it later emerged that in this phase of the probe they'd used false information and social security numbers in order to gain access to telephone and fax information.
The third-party investigators were also found to have sent e-mails to their subjects with tracing mechanisms attached, and to have conducted physical surveillance of journalists and board members.
Dunn stepped down from HP's board in September 2006 after a nine-year tenure. At the same time, HP president and CEO Mark Hurd acknowledged that he had approved the investigators' strategy for identifying the sources of the leaks and apologized for not having familiarized himself with their tactics.
Pre-texting at the time was a legal grey area, but in a subsequent investigation, a congressional panel declared the practice illegal and vilified HP executives for allowing it to take place on their watch.
Congressional panel members called Dunn's testimony "troubling," noting that she claimed not to remember having had any conversations with the third-party investigators about the tactics they used in the probe.
A criminal investigation followed, and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer charged Dunn and four others with felonies associated with pre-texting, including fraudulent wire communications, wrongful use of computer data, identity theft, and conspiracy.
The state dropped the charges against Dunn in March 2007 due to her failing health. Dunn was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and was undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer at the time.
Dunn "worked tirelessly for the good of HP," an HP spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "We are saddened by the news of her passing, and our thoughts go out to her family on their loss."