California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law on Friday making it a crime to buy telephone records or obtain them through deceit, an issue that has become important amid a furor over Hewlett-Packard Co.'s attempts to track down boardroom leaks to the press.
The new law punishes violators with a fine of up to $2,500 and a year in prison, with the maximum fine rising to $10,000 for repeat offenders.
It applies to anyone who sells, buys, or conspires to buy or sell any records of telephone-calling patterns without the written consent of the subcriber, or anyone who obtains such records through fraud or deceit.
Schwarzenegger signed the law as HP, a stalwart of Silicon Valley, is embroiled in a scandal centering on the computer maker's investigation into leaks to the media from its board of directors.
HP has admitted that investigators impersonated company board members, employees and journalists to get their phone records so it could learn the source of leaks of secret board deliberations.
Previous California law prohibited telephone companies from making such records available without first obtaining written permission from the subscriber, but did not lay out criminal penalties for doing so.
The new law was introduced by state senators in February 2005, a year and a half before the HP scandal broke.
The law also says that any personal telephone data obtained in a way that violates the law will be inadmissable as evidence in any legal or adminstrative proceeding.