About 73 percent of corporate board members in a recent survey said that board chairpersons should have the power to use any legal means to identify the source of confidential leaks.
Fifty-three percent said they believed it is permissible to follow individuals as they travel inside and outside of a company, and 53 percent said they believe it is permissible to obtain and review phone records if pretexting is legal, according to a recent survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute.
Larry Ponemon surveyed 226 board members to find out how they perceive recent events involving Hewlett Packard and its former board chairperson, Patricia Dunn, who resigned Friday as several government agencies investigate whether a media leak probe that she oversaw was illegal. The probe relied on several tactics, including pretexting, or impersonating someone in order to obtain records of their personal phone calls.
Dunn's investigation identified George Keyworth, a now-retired HP board member and former science advisor to President Ronald Reagan, as the source for a story that triggered the investigation. Keyworth, however, maintains that he did not leak information but spoke to reporters off the record and on background after the company had encouraged him to do so.
HP has maintained that its investigation was justified because board leaks are serious and Keyworth failed to go through proper channels before disclosing valuable company information. After initially refusing to resign, Keyworth resigned two weeks ago, becoming the second of three board members to leave the company over the media leak probe and ensuing controversy. Venture capitalist Tom Perkins resigned in May after objecting to the way Dunn handled the probe.
Sixty-three percent of respondents in the Ponemon survey said that leaks of confidential board information are rare. Over 17 percent said data leaks by board members are frequent or very frequent. Only five percent said the problem almost never occurs.
More than 53 percent of respondents said that corporate boards infrequently initiate the use of aggressive surveillance methods, while 24 percent said they think aggressive surveillance methods are used frequently. Only three percent said that aggressive surveillance almost never occurs.
More than 85 percent of the board members said that protection of confidential information is more important than the protection of a board member's privacy rights, while only 11 percent said that individual privacy is equally important.
Eighty-one percent of respondents said that their boards do not have policies protecting board members' privacy rights, and 56 percent said they have served on boards that used aggressive surveillance methods to investigate potential problems.
The survey used a sampling from a list of board members who serve on one or more boards of publicly traded companies listed on NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange. Of 233 telephone surveys completed by Sept. 15, Ponemon rejected seven because of incomplete or inconsistent responses.