ACLU Raises Spying Issue at BellSouth Shareholder Meeting on AT&T Merger

July 21, 2006

Group Questions Proxy Statement Disclosures and
AT&T's Participation in the Illegal NSA Spying Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ATLANTA -- BellSouth's proposed merger with AT&T should be approached with great caution because of AT&T's entanglements with illegal NSA spying, the American Civil Liberties Union said at a BellSouth shareholders meeting held here today to consider the merger.

"The ACLU is in Atlanta as a BellSouth shareholder to raise some important questions about the proposed merger," said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project. "Not only because of AT&T's apparent cooperation in illegal government spying on its customers, but also because AT&T may bring with it into the relationship significant liability for sharing customer calling information outside of the law."

At the meeting, Steinhardt also raised questions about the joint AT&T-BellSouth proxy statement. Noting that a federal court yesterday allowed a lawsuit against AT&T to proceed despite a motion by AT&T and the government to dismiss the case based on a "state secrets" privilege, Steinhardt asked why the proxy statement did not disclose the fact that AT&T faces tens of billions of dollars in potential damages as a result of its involvement with NSA spying.

"They didn't really offer any good answer," said Steinhardt. "But BellSouth shareholders would be well advised to think twice about marrying that kind of burden."

Steinhardt pointed out that a statute called the Stored Communications Act bans phone companies from sharing information about their customers' phone records without a warrant, and imposes a $1,000 penalty - per customer - for turning over records.

"More broadly, BellSouth's shareholders should think about this not just as part-owners of Bellsouth, but also as Americans," said Steinhardt. "They must think carefully about whether they want their company to join with one that seems to be undercutting precious things this country holds dear: the rule of law, the separation of powers between Congress and the Executive, and Americans' most basic understandings and expectations for how their private communications are treated in the United States."

The ACLU made available today a fact sheet summarizing the concerns that should be raised in connection with the merger. The fact sheet is available at: www.aclu.org/privacy/spying/26204res20060721.html

More information about the ACLU's campaign to stop the NSA's warrantless wiretapping is available at:
www.aclu.org/nsaspying

Statistics image