Memo to the Press: Pretexting is Already Illegal
September 08, 2006
In a stunning example of group think scores of my brethren in the news media have linked hands and jumped off the same cliff today. I refer, of course, to the widespread coverage of the so-called “pretexting” scandal at Hewlett Packard. Many of these stories (here is one example) have focused on the supposed need for new laws to protect the privacy of telephone records and other similar documents. The only problem: pretexting is already illegal. In fact, the word “pretexting” is itself a pretext for a well-known crime that has been around for as long as one person has coveted something that belongs to someone else. The word ‘pretexting” is simply a euphemism – invented by its practitioners – for obtaining something that does not belong to them by lying and committing fraud. “Pretexting” to get phone records that belong to someone else is no different than, say, going to a car repair shop and obtaining the keys to someone else’s ride by pretending to be the owner of the vehicle. Now, do we need a special law to stop people from stealing cars by pretending to be the owner of the car? Of course not. We already have laws against theft by fraud.
Likewise, we already have laws that prohibit the sale of stolen property. We also have laws that prevent the purchase of stolen property if the buyer knows the property was stolen.
If I were an editor today, one of the rare days I miss that job, I’d be assigning reporters to look into the question of why law enforcement personnel appear to be so reluctant to protect citizens, including HP’s board members, from the theft of their property. There may be a question of exactly who owns phone records, the customer or the phone company. But they are certainly not owned by the “pretexters” who have used fraud to obtain them.
The sooner our press stops focusing on the bogus idea that we need new laws and starts focusing on the question of why our existing laws are not being enforced, the quicker we’ll see these deplorable practices stop.