MCLU Urges Court to Preserve PUC Privacy Complaint

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
March 20, 2009 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Mainers Deserve Truth About Telephone/Internet Privacy


Today, the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation expressed its opposition to efforts by the federal government to terminate the Maine PUC’s telephone customer investigation. The State of Maine, along with Missouri, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont, are fighting to keep alive their authority to protect phone customer privacy through reasonable regulation. The Maine case stems from a complaint brought on May 8, 2006 by James D. Cowie and other Maine telephone customers asking the Maine Public Utilities Commission to investigate whether their privacy rights were violated by Verizon.

“In America, we should feel free to have private conversations on the telephone or share private information in e-mail,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has asked that Verizon confirm under oath the truthfulness of statements it made to the press. The federal government sued the Maine Public Utilities Commission to prevent Verizon from giving that testimony under oath. That case was later consolidated with dozens of other cases challenging the NSA warrantless surveillance program before Judge Vaughn Walker of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The federal government has asked for summary judgment, arguing that the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 pre-empts state authority to protect privacy.

“The federal government here has taken an unreasonable position,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation. “Maine’s action here will not in any way impinge upon national security efforts.”

At issue is Section 803 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 which states “No state shall conduct an investigation into an electronic communication service provider’s alleged assistance to an element of the intelligence community or require through regulation or any other means the disclosure of information about an electronic communication service provider’s alleged assistance to an element of the intelligence community.”

Maine was the first state to file a customer complaint with the Public Utilities Commission when 21 Mainers led by James Cowie filed a complaint on May 8. ACLU affiliates in 20 states subsequently petitioned their local public utilities commissions or attorneys general to open investigations of the phone companies. The PUC complaints are part of a broader ACLU campaign to end illegal government spying on millions of Americans.

Revelations by two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency, Adrienne Kinne and David Murfee Faulk, revealed to ABC News in October of 2008 that the NSA was monitoring hundreds of personal calls of US servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as journalists and American aid workers overseas.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release