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Reporters claim HP invaded their privacy

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KAI RYSSDAL: Shares of Hewlett Packard didn’t move much today, even as one of the most controversial episodes in the company’s history resurfaced. Three reporters for CNet are planning to sue HP.

It’s the latest twist in the corporate spying scandal that cost Patricia Dunn her job as chairman of the board. Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports.

STEVE HENN: It began when Patricia Dunn tried to plug a corporate leak.

Acting in concert with HP attorneys, Dunn hired private investigators — who obtained and sifted through the phone records of more than half a dozen journalists. When word of the investigation broke, it created a fire storm.

And today, Kevin Boyle — an attorney for three of the reporters whose phone records were searched — announced they were planning to sue.

KEVIN BOYLE: The thrust of the suit will be invasion of privacy.

Many media-watchers can’t recall another case quite like it.

BOYLE: This is a very unusual suit, and that is because — hopefully — this is very unusual conduct by Hewlett Packard.

Four other reporters from Business Week and the New York Times have been negotiating with HP trying to reach a settlement.

Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says this is a change for journalists who traditionally prefer to let their work speak for itself.

ROSENSTIEL: I think that you’re seeing news organizations saying we need to take a new tact.

But Rosenstiel does see a bit of an irony here. For years, companies have used similar invasion of privacy lawsuits as a tool to fight back against aggressive reporters. Two reporters from the Wall Street Journal have decided not to sue.

In Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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