Phone Companies Broke the Law, ACLU to Argue Before Service Commission

September 28, 2006

Detroit — The Michigan Public Service Commission in Lansing will hear oral arguments tomorrow on the phone companies’ request to dismiss the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s complaint that AT&T and Verizon committed consumer fraud by violating their own privacy agreements when they allowed the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless surveillance on law-abiding Americans. The phone companies' have invoked the “state secrets” doctrine as basis for dismissal. This doctrine is a defense that the government is increasingly trying to use to hide its conduct from judicial review of the constitutionality of its policies and programs.

“Telephone companies should not be allowed to become spies for the federal government,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The state’s secret doctrine is, by definition, only a doctrine that the state can try to use.”   

In May, USA Today reported that the NSA has obtained stored customer records from the leading phone companies. Those records, which are usually referred to as “CPNI,” may actually contain far more detail about the customer than the number they dialed or from which they received a call.

The ACLU contends that the seven doctors, lawyers and psychologists who have provided affidavits are especially vulnerable and are concerned that the breaches of the phone companies’ privacy policies may impact their confidential communications with clients and patients.

More than 20 ACLU affiliates nationwide have called on their state Public Service Commission, state Attorneys General or other state officials demanding investigations into whether local telecommunications companies allowed the NSA to illegally spy on their customers. The national ACLU has also filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

The Senate is now considering legislation that would pre-empt state Public Utility Commission investigations into whether telecom companies improperly shared personally-identifiable information with the National Security Agency. 

To read the letter to the Michigan Public Service Commission, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/publicserviceletter.pdf

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