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Applying deontology and utilitarianism to the silicon valley

Patricia Dunn is with Hewlett-Packard no more. It all started with a leak; somebody was giving out important company secrets. And with all the deft Hollywood style gumshoe-esque thinking Ms Dunn hired Private Investigator Ronald DeLia to find out just who it was. The Private Investigators posed as H-P directors, as journalists, and more to root out the information. But more to the point, all you really need is a social security number and a valid zip code and you can pose as the person and hack your way in. This my friends is called pretexting.

Should Patricia Dunn have been forced to resign?

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I have patiently read the story.

Clearly, this is a case of obtaining information under false pretence, also known as pretexting, or pretending to be the one in whose name the information is being requested. But the question is, should the person who initiated the investigation that led to that pretexting resign her post as chairman?

As requested, let us examine this question and possible answers under the two approaches recommended: deontological and utilitarian.

1.Deontological ethics is based on duties. Deontology comes from the Greek deon which means 'you must.' It is a duty that one must tell the truth, keep ones promises, etc.

In this approach, the only way one could know that one is doing one's duty is by following the rules. Was Ms Dunn following the rules? If indeed she was following the rules, should she have resigned because somebody she hired then hired another person who obtained information under false pretence? In order to answer that question, we have to look critically at what she did.

It was clear that there was a leak at Hewlett Packard. Dunn knew it was her responsibility to find the source of the leak and plug it. The writer of this piece said that Dunn is « a stickler for proper procedures. » But then the writer immediately added that Dunn's emotions, in this case 'an obsession with leaks to reporters' became her undoing. There is little evidence for this: do not forget that the person writing this is a reporter.

Granted that there is a conflict of personality and procedure between Dunn and Perkins, there was no evidence that this was the reason why Dunn hired a private investigator. I think that charge would have been more appropriate if it was not Dunn's responsibility to find the leak and plug it, but suspecting it was her foe, in this case Perkins, who is leaking company information, she still went ahead and ordered an investigation. But it was clearly her responsibility to do so. And she did. The writer also added that no one knew what Dunn knew and when she knew it. That is totally beside the point. Even the lawyer of the company did not think that what was done was (completely) illegal. She did not know that the security company that was hired, by a third party, « was "done through a third party that made pretext calls to phone-service providers."» All she was told was that all the procedure being used was legal. And the problem was solved when the leak was found to be Keyworth.

Keyworth's tongue in cheek apology leaves a lot to be desired. According to the writer, « Thunderstruck, Keyworth apologized but said to the board, "I would have told you all about this. Why didn't you just ask?"» Why would he ...

Solution Summary

Patricia Dunn had to resign her executive post of at Hewlett Packard because of the phenomenon known as pre-texting. This is because she was the one who ordered the investigation in which pre-texting was used to unravel the case of leaks in the company.

This solution applies both deontology and utilitarianism to analyse the case. Under which approach should she resign or not resign her post?