Word Watch: pretexting

The Hewlett-Packard scandal involving its Chair Patricia Dunn hiring private investigators to spy on other board members has brought the term pretexting to the fore. Pretexting is the obtaining of private records about an individual by pretending to be someone authorized access to them. The term comes from the idea of creating a false pretext justifying access to the data.

The term is not new, however, having been around for least 14 years. From the 9 March 1992 issue of Computerworld magazine:

Another technique, called “pretexting,” is to get the data by phone after claiming to be an [Social Security Administration] employee from another office where the computer is down.

Somewhat earlier, is the more general use of the term to mean the creation of false pretenses. From the Usenet group soc.culture.vietnamese, 4 February 1992, Vietnamese Legend (The Happy Dream):

Worried at not finding him back, he sent for Sinh several times; but the latter refused to return to the Court, pretexting that he had to stay for a while to organize the administration of the occupied country.

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