MCLU Urges PUC to Consider Privacy as Condition of Verizon/FairPoint Sale

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
November 2, 2007 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, Maine – The Maine Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) and a group of Verizon telephone customers urged the Maine Public Utilities Commission today to make privacy protections for telephone customers a condition of sale in the transfer of Verizon assets to FairPoint Communications. The MCLU and the consumers also argued that continued jurisdiction in the ongoing case regarding past violations of customer privacy should be a condition of sale.

“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.”

Verizon has asserted that sale of its assets to FairPoint will put an end to all legal proceedings concerning Verizon privacy violations pending in Maine. The MCLU joined the Public Advocate today in asserting that the Public Utilities Commission should maintain its jurisdiction over any past violations of the law by Verizon. The MCLU also joined consumers in highlighting the deficiencies of FairPoint’s current privacy policy and urging the Public Utilities Commission to ensure that FairPoint rectify those deficiencies as a condition of sale.

“FairPoint’s privacy policy must make crystal clear that its customers have a legal right to privacy and that the protection of that right is of paramount concern to the State and to FairPoint,” said James Cowie, lead complainant in the privacy complaint. “Before FairPoint takes over Verizon’s wireline networks in Maine, its privacy policy and how it is staffed, managed, and its execution monitored need to be overhauled and strengthened.”

In May 2006, Cowie and 21 other Maine privacy activists initiated a customer complaint urging the Public Utilities Commission to investigate whether Verizon handed over customer records to the National Security Agency or gave the NSA access to their phone equipment. That complaint was stalled when the federal government sued to stop any Public Utilities Commission investigation in the case of United States v. Adams. Because of their privacy interests in the ongoing litigation, James D. Cowie and the other complainants were granted intervenor status in the Verizon-FairPoint sale.

“No matter how anxious the phone companies may be to cooperate with government agencies, they have an obligation to follow the law and to be accountable for their actions,” said Christopher Branson, Vice President of the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation and an attorney at Murray, Plumb & Murray. “Privacy, once lost, cannot be restored.”

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