So said an article in www.wsj.com recently. The article, “Accusations of Snooping in Ink-Cartridge Dispute, Reseller Claims Seiko Epson Sent a Spy to Its Warehouse; Latest Dust-Up in Fight Over Printer Patents” by Justin Scheck, discussed the battle between a small ink-cartridge refiller which buys empty cartridges and refills them and a major printer manufacturer which depends on the aftermarket sales for printer business profitability.
“… in an Oregon federal court, where Green Project Inc., a small ink-cartridge reseller, claims that Seiko Epson Corp., one of the world's three biggest printer makers, sent an investigator disguised as a customer to snoop around the company.”
“A Seiko Epson lawyer said the company sometimes uses investigators to enforce its patents. He declined to comment on the Green Project suit's details, but said "we believe nothing was done wrong here." Herbert Seitz, the man who Green Project says was an Epson investigator, said Monday he is unfamiliar with Green Project's allegations. "I have nothing to say," he said.”
For those of us in the CI field, this is not a new story, only new names. But the end of the article contains a surprise: a statement that the legal field was uncertain about the ethics of obtaining information;
“Whether Green Project's allegations would sway a court is unclear. "There's a raging debate" in the legal community over ethical guidelines for information gathering, said Patrick Robbins, a defense lawyer at Shearman & Sterling LLP who sometimes uses private detectives.”
“Mr. Robbins said courts have offered little clarity on whether it is acceptable to use deception to obtain information.”
Actually, I thought that the Corporate Espionage Act was clear on the use of deception to obtain confidential information. Also, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) has ethical guidelines that also prohibit the use of deception. See www.scip.org for details.
I would prefer that lawyers not re-visit this issue as CI professionals have enough trouble right now dealing with the unsavory spy connotations. We should and do follow ethical guidelines when obtaining information and deception is not necessary to do our jobs.