MCLU Applauds Public Utilities Commission Order On Sale Of Verizon To FairPoint

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
February 4, 2008 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, ME – The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) today released an order that will allow its investigation into Verizon’s alleged abuses of customer privacy to continue. The order requires that, as a condition of the sale of Verizon assets to FairPoint Communications, the PUC retain jurisdiction over the telecomm giant even after the transaction with FairPoint has been completed.

“The Commission has taken two significant steps to help restore the privacy rights of Maine citizens,” said Christopher Branson, Vice President of the Maine Civil Liberties Union and an attorney at Murray, Plumb & Murray. “By retaining jurisdiction over the pending investigation of Verizon, the Commission has signaled that it will not allow the sale of Verizon to disrupt the Commission’s investigation of serious allegations of privacy violations by Verizon.”

Verizon had previously asserted that the sale to FairPoint would put an end to all legal proceedings concerning Verizon privacy violations pending in Maine. The MCLU commends the order for stipulating that Verizon cannot sell its way out of scrutiny from the PUC and the citizens of Maine it represents.

“Sale of its assets should not mean Verizon is off the hook for violating the privacy rights of its customers,” said Shenna Bellows, MCLU Executive Director. “Mainers need to know that their private telephone conversations will be free from surveillance by the government or the phone company.”

In May 2006, James Cowie and 21 other Maine privacy activists initiated a customer complaint urging the PUC to investigate whether Verizon handed over customer records to the National Security Agency (NSA) or gave the NSA access to their phone equipment.

The order also benefits the privacy rights of Mainers by requiring FairPoint to adopt stronger privacy policies before it can acquire assets from Verizon. In addition to creating a formal privacy policy prior to the sale, the PUC requires FairPoint to agree to an annual review of its privacy practices.

“By requiring FairPoint annually to certify that it has not violated any laws, the Commission has indicated that it will not allow Maine phone companies to ignore the Legislature’s declaration that the ‘right to privacy and the protection of this right to privacy is of paramount concern to the State,’” said Branson.

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