September 08, 2006

Euphemism of the Day: "Pretexting"

Hewlett-Packard in big trouble. In an effort to investigate leaks regarding the 2005 ouster of its CEO, the company hired private investigators who spied on H-P's directors by delving into their private telephone records. To do this, the investigators stole the directors' social security digits, called the phone companies and posed as the directors themselves. H-P is using the term "pretexting" to describe this practice. Federal law prohibits "pretexting" if used to obtain financial information, but apparently there is no federal law outlawing "pretexting" for any other purpose. However, the matter has been referred to the California Attorney General's Office, which investigates computer fraud and identify theft. It has also been referred to the U.S. Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

"Pretexting?" That sounds like some beneficial technical thing a text messager might do, and perhaps the confusion is deliberate. The last time I checked, what the H-P investigators did is known as "lying," "fraud" and "identity theft." Do we really need a new word?


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