AT&T Rewrite the Rules of Privacy

In Privacy on June 28, 2006 at 9:51 am

As of last Friday, AT&T introduced a new privacy policy which effectively says customers’ confidential information is owned by AT&T, not the customers themselves!

These changes to the 2004 version of their privacy policy are especially significant as it appears to give the telecoms company more leeway in sharing customers’ personal data with the Government, and may well be in response to recent reports that AT&T gave the NSA unrestricted access to voice and data networks as part of the Bush administration’s war on terror:

“They’re obviously trying to avoid a hornet’s nest of consumer-protection lawsuits,” said Chris Hoofnagle, a San Francisco privacy consultant and former senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“They’ve written this new policy so broadly that they’ve given themselves maximum flexibility when it comes to disclosing customers’ records,” he said. (Source: SfGate.com

This new policy is specifically for video and internet customers, and states explicity the rights of AT&T in regard to disclosure of personal and “confidential” information:

“While your account information may be personal to you, these records constitute business records that are owned by AT&T,” the new policy declares. “As such, AT&T may disclose such records to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process.”

It says the company “may disclose your information in response to subpoenas, court orders, or other legal process,” omitting the earlier language about such processes being “required and/or permitted by law.”

Worryingly, AT&T are requiring that its customers agree to this revised policy as a condition for service; legal experts say will reduce customers’ recourse for any future data sharing with government authorities or others. But I have to wonder, just how many of AT&T’s customers will actually read this new policy and understand the implications before agreeing to it?

The new policy also indicates that AT&T will track the viewing habits of customers who use it’s video services: Homezone and U-verse. Homezone is AT&T’s satellite TV service, offered in conjunction with Dish Network, and U-verse is the new cablelike video service delivered over phone lines.

Although the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 stipulates that cable and satellite companies can’t collect or disclose information about customers’ viewing habits, this doesn’t apply to video services offered by phone companies via the internet, since legislators didn’t anticipate this possibility of future technology.

Perhaps it’s about time that laws were changed to reflect the best interests of the customer, and not those of loose tongued media giants…

Source: SfGate.com


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