From Techdirt

The nation’s biggest telcos are working hard to make the lawsuits against them for passing customer call records and other info to the government as part of its program of warrantless wiretaps disappear. AT&T’s argument that it was just following government orders didn’t wash with a judge, and now Verizon is claiming that its passing of information to the government is protected by the First Amendment.

Yes, you read that correctly: it says the Electronic Communications Privacy Act is unconstitutional, and the information it passed to the government — in apparent violation of it, and to comply with the sort of warrantless surveillance the ECPA was designed to prevent — is constitutionally protected free speech. This seems tenuous at best, but it fits with Verizon’s MO. The company always tries to whitewash its customer data leaks by filing lawsuits and trying to shift the blame onto pretexters and information brokers, and making the problem appear to be solely these people’s activities, rather than its own inability to protect customer data.

Likewise in this case, it contends that it’s done nothing wrong, and that the ECPA makes the mistake of trying to prevent free speech, rather than putting restrictions on the government’s ability to ask for the information. Of course, those restrictions exist (in the form of having to get a warrant), but didn’t really work so well here. Verizon’s complicity seems pretty obvious and its free-speech claims look like little more than a hail-mary attempt to shirk liability for disclosing the customer information. That may not be necessary, though, if the Bush administration’s attempts to get Congress to pass a law giving the telcos immunity from these sorts of lawsuits are successful.

Protected by the first amendment? What!?

  1. Gwendle says:

    I can feel a backlash from the customers brewing in the wind for this one…..

  2. tallwookie says:

    Its to “protect the children”…

  3. Major Jizz says:

    15+ years T-Mobile customer. 🙂

  4. MrNewton says:

    The telcos are very very good at killing themselves.

  5. Ron says:

    They can kiss my account goodbye.

  6. BubbaRay says:

    #6, pedro, I ditched Verizon, the evil empire, 3 years ago for Cingular, which I guess is now ATT. I also dumped my Verizon landline.

    Cingular (ATT?) works just about everywhere I go (in TX, LA, MS, AL, AR, OK, NM, AZ) and is the only one that works consistently at the house. I like the rollover minutes (I can’t use ’em all up), cheap plan and $10 per added line. Plus, without a landline, I no longer get those annoying telemarketer calls. Hope this helps. [Not an official endorsement, I’m in no way associated with ATT, your mileage may vary.]

  7. hhopper says:

    What a joke. The govt. broke up ATT as a monopoly and now it’s back.

  8. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #1 – A backlash?

    From who?

    The dilligent media reporters who know the importance of this story?
    Or the millions of blissfully unaware customers who use their cell phones for voting on American Idol contestants?

  9. MikeN says:

    What law was passed saying they couldn’t give their records to the government? If there is no such law, then how is it illegal?

  10. Emeryjay says:

    An old Murphy’s law corollary says that when a politician gets and idea, he usually gets it wrong. It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that when Verizon gets an idea it usually gets it wrong.

    Is Verizon asserting that it was an act of civil disobedience?

    So I think we should assert that any violation of the DCMA is also civil disobedience. I think if you look through the Declaration of Independence, we will determine that we do not have a right to disobey illegal laws, but rather a duty to subvert them.

    I don’t happen to agree with Verizon’s angle on the First Amendment.

  11. grog says:

    10 — it’s the typical conservative paradox — conservatives rail against big government, and trial lawyers, and yet they assume that anything that isn’t illegal is a-okay both ethically and morally, as if the legal code came down from mt. sinai on stone tablets.

    conservatives are strange animals

  12. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #13 – You may be right when it comes to neocons or those Ayn Rand zealots who believe in completely unfettered capitalism free from any law that protects a consumer from being endlessly anally raped…

    But it might be unfair to paint traditional conservatives with that label.

    But what do I care about fair? I’m a partisan.

  13. MikeN says:

    #13, I wouldn’thave asked if the post hadn’t said ‘illegally’

  14. MikeN says:

    #11, that link is to rules on privacy for government agencies’ release of records to the public. Verizon is not a government agency, and is not making records public.


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