Bellsouth’s Billion Dollar Mistake

[ UPDATE: ] Bellsouth denies USA Today charge, claims no sharing of records.

According to CNN and other news sources, Bellsouth denies USA Today’s claim that it participated in the massive NSA privacy breach.

In several reports, Bellsouth spokesman Jeff Battcher claims

Battcher said BellSouth’s customer service department had received only 26 complaints about reports that private phone records may have been relayed to the government.

26 sounds quite low, especially since I know 5 folk, including myself, that called when the story broke.

Verizon and ATT are still on the hook.

Interesting review of the liability Bellsouth and its fellow traitorous telco brethren face for their 5 years of dishonest and dishonorable behavior.

It appears Bellsouth faces billions of dollars of losses for their quisling as suggested by this post on Think Progress

1. It violates the Stored Communications Act. The Stored Communications Act, Section 2703(c), provides exactly five exceptions that would permit a phone company to disclose to the government the list of calls to or from a subscriber: (i) a warrant; (ii) a court order; (iii) the customer’s consent; (iv) for telemarketing enforcement; or (v) by “administrative subpoena.” The first four clearly don’t apply. As for administrative subpoenas, where a government agency asks for records without court approval, there is a simple answer – the NSA has no administrative subpoena authority, and it is the NSA that reportedly got the phone records.

2. The penalty for violating the Stored Communications Act is $1000 per individual violation. Section 2707 of the Stored Communications Act gives a private right of action to any telephone customer “aggrieved by any violation.” If the phone company acted with a “knowing or intentional state of mind,” then the customer wins actual harm, attorney’s fees, and “in no case shall a person entitled to recover receive less than the sum of $1,000.”

(The phone companies might say they didn’t “know” they were violating the law. But USA Today reports that Qwest’s lawyers knew about the legal risks, which are bright and clear in the statute book.)

3. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act doesn’t get the telcos off the hook. According to USA Today, the NSA did not go to the FISA court to get a court order. And Qwest is quoted as saying that the Attorney General would not certify that the request was lawful under FISA. So FISA provides no defense for the phone companies, either.

As I posted yesterday, besides contacting the relevant governmental entities, I’ve also asked the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to make me a named person in any class action suits they take up against Bellsouth.

I don’t believe I’ll be alone.

As Matt Gross points out, the telcos have jerked their customers around for decades – poor service, mystery charges, excessive fees, plain rude behavior.

The industry consistently ranks the highest in consumer complaints reported to the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.

They’ve taken escalating chunks of cash from us since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated their industry.

They’ve collected billions in fees for broadband Internet over the last decade and renege on their commitment.

You can imagine why the American people bit their tongues and dealt with the telcos perfidy when their reprehensible behavior appeared to be constrained to monopolist thievery but now that some of them (except QWest, whose lawyers obviously understand the Constitution) joined with the Bush junta in wholesale violation of folks rights, well, I hope those tongues will free themselves and wag.

Freedom of speech in the new Town commons is too important a right to entrust to the Bellsouths of the world. Local community-owned communications infrastructure offers credible protection from these violations.

One may hope that with true economic and policy competition, these companies will mend their ways.

One thought on “Bellsouth’s Billion Dollar Mistake”

  1. Do you have any idea what Charles Taylor (NC-ll) might have done for these telecom folk in 2003-2004? There’s a huge spike in donations for them those years and I know they must have wanted something from him (and gotten at least a good effort)

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