The new policy says that AT&T – not customers – owns customers’ confidential info and can use it “to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process.”
The policy also indicates that AT&T will track the viewing habits of customers of its new video service – something that cable and satellite providers are prohibited from doing.
The company’s policy overhaul follows recent reports that AT&T was one of several leading telecom providers that allowed the National Security Agency warrantless access to its voice and data networks as part of the Bush administration’s war on terror.
“They’re obviously trying to avoid a hornet’s nest of consumer-protection lawsuits,” said Chris Hoofnagle, a San Francisco privacy consultant and former senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
To a degree, I cannot blame AT&T for this move.
AT&T is also believed to have participated in President Bush’s acknowledged domestic spying program, in which the NSA was given warrantless access to U.S. citizens’ phone calls.
But the company also asserted that it has “an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare, whether it be an individual or the security interests of the entire nation.”
Government spying programs expose AT&T to potentially massive liability from customers. To protect themselves they probably had no choice but to change their written public policy.
The new version, which is specifically for Internet and video customers, is much more explicit about the company’s right to cooperate with government agencies in any security-related matters – and AT&T’s belief that customers’ data belongs to the company, not customers.
My choice is to not be a customer of AT&T, as much as possible. I only hope Cox (my internet, cable, and phone service) will not cave in similar fashion.