Feeds

AT&T privacy policy overreaches, lawyers say

What's yours is mine

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

A recent change to AT&T's privacy policy for broadband and video users is overbroad and likely will leave the courts or Congress to decide whether the company's practices are standard or sinister, legal experts said.

The policy change, which comes as the telecommunications giant is defending itself in court against multiple lawsuit stemming from its alleged cooperation with a surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency, states that "while your account information may be personal to you, these records constitute business records that are owned by AT&T".

The language, if accepted by consumers and supported by the courts, could redraw the current lines in the battle between privacy advocates and companies that retain significant data on their customers, said Charles Kennedy, an attorney specialising in privacy law and Of Counsel at Morrison & Foerster.

"The playing field has just tilted about 45 degrees with AT&T saying they can do this," Kennedy said. "This means that they could get the whole enchilada if they win. It's a pretty powerful change."

The claim to own, without reservation, its customers private data comes as AT&T and other telecommunications firms have come under fire for turning over customer data to the government outsides of the confines of established legal practices.

While evidence regarding the domestic surveillance activities of the NSA have mounted, the Bush Administration has stepped in and cited "state secret privilege" to quash the increasing number of court actions.

Some legal experts have labeled AT&T's privacy policy change as an attempt to strengthen its legal defense in court, but the company denied the allegations.

"We did this for two reasons," said Walter Sharp, a spokesman for the company. "One is that we merged two companies (SBC and AT&T) and we needed to merge two privacy policies. The second is that we are about to launch a video service, so we needed a policy to cover that."

The changes to the privacy policy, first brought to light by the San Francisco Chronicle, were in the works since before the original New York Times story broke the story of the NSA's activities in December, Sharp maintained.

The revised language, appearing under the heading "Legal Obligations/Fraud" and only accessible to AT&T customers, states:

While your account information may be personal to you, these records constitute business records that are owned by AT&T. As such, AT&T may disclose such records to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process. Specifically, AT&T provides account information to collection agencies and/or credit bureaus. We may disclose your information in response to subpoenas, court orders, or other legal process, or to establish or exercise our legal rights or defend against legal claims. We may also use your information in order to investigate, prevent, or take action regarding illegal activities, suspected fraud, situations involving potential threats to the physical safety of any person, violations of Service Terms or the Acceptable Use Policy, or as otherwise required or permitted by law.

While the first half of the revised section discusses only "account information" - defined in the privacy policy as contact, billing and equipment information but not usage data - the latter part of the new language uses the more general term, with no hint of irony, of "your information."

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
So, Apple won't sell cheap kit? Prepare the iOS garden wall WRECKING BALL
It can throw the low cost race if it looks to the cloud
EE fails to apologise for HUGE T-Mobile outage that hit Brits on Friday
Customer: 'Please change your name to occasionally somewhere'
Time Warner Cable customers SQUEAL as US network goes offline
A rude awakening: North Americans greeted with outage drama
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
BT customers face broadband and landline price hikes
Poor punters won't be affected, telecoms giant claims
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.