Friday, September 08, 2006

US Justice Department Sues to Bar Connecticut Inquiry into Possible Warrantless Disclosure of Customer Telephone Records

Telephone records regarding calling and receiving numbers, the time and duration of calls are needed by the telephone companies for billing purposes. This information is considered to be “Customer Proprietary Network Information” ("CPNI"). Most state telephone regulators, including New York's PSC, strictly limit the use of CPNI. The New York PSC adopted general privacy principles and issued orders to protect this information, limit its use by telephone companies, and restrict its availability to third parties. The records of ordinary customer use of the telephone network generally are not made available to third parties. Records are made available to comply with a lawful subpoena or judicial warrant.

When news reports indicated that some telephone companies may have cooperated with the National Security Agency to provide certain records relating to telephone calls without judicial warrants or subpoenas, the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control ("CDPUC") opened a proceeding to consider an ACLU petition to conduct an investigation. The Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel urged that a full investigation be conducted to inquire whether Connecticut telephone privacy rules and policies had been breached. The CDPUC ordered AT&T to answer written interrogatories by September 7, 2006.

On September 7, 2006 AT&T refused to answer the written questions. AT&T cited a US Justice Department lawsuit filed the day before, in which the Justice Department is asking a federal judge to enjoin CDPUC from requiring telephone companies to answer questions whether they cooperated in providing data to the National Security Agency. In support of its refusal to answer the discovery questions, AT&T submitted a letter from the Justice Department indicating that the Director of National Intelligence is asserting the “state secrets privilege.”

On September 8, 2006 the Civil Liberties Union moved to hold AT&T in contempt of the prior directive of the CDPUC and to supply the answers required by the state regulatory agency. The Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel also moved to compel answers to the questions regarding possible release of customer telephone records.

For more information, see PULP’s web page on New York’s telephone privacy policies.

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