Spies Among Us? Corporate Espionage Is Big Biz

According to Fuld and Company, a Cambridge, Mass., intelligence consultant, nine out of 10 large companies have hired individuals to ferret out competitive intelligence. But the company draws a sharp line between spying and competitive intelligence.

Competitive intelligence, or CI, is "information that has been analyzed to the point where you can make a decision," the company states on its Web site. "Spying implies illegal or unethical activities. ... Corporations do not want to find themselves in court, nor do they want to upset shareholders."

The high-tech era has made spying a lot easier, Winkler said, and he gave the following example.

"Airbus can take overhead satellite images of Boeing to see how many planes are in production," he said. "That's not really illegal in fact, it's one of the main uses of satellites these days. You have to look at corporate behavior on a illegal, unethical and legal continuum. Frankly, what a lot of companies are doing may not be illegal, but there is a lot of very arrogant behavior." --

The Internet has made corporate spying, or competitive intelligence if you prefer, a lot easier.

Stories abound about hackers breaking through corporate security barriers to obtain customer records, marketing plans and banking information. No wonder 77 percent of American businesses now say they "spy" on their own employees by covertly reading e-mails, according to PC Magazine.

Once again, though, the question is how much is too much. Is your boss reading your e-mail for competitive information that should not be shared or to simply build a case in order to trim the ranks because of in-house downsizing?

In the case of HP, both California and the United States have indicated the company crossed the line.

Next week, chairwoman Dunn and HP's general counsel are scheduled to testify before a congressional panel investigating the $86 billion computer giant. The committee will also hear from HP outside counsel Larry Sorsini, who has defended the company's behavior and investigative tactics as "not generally unlawful."

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