Telco Rollover Wins Verizon $50 Billion Lawsuit

    May 15, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Is this what they meant by “rollover minutes?” Verizon was slapped with a lawsuit for up to $50 billion last week over its involvement in supplying the National Security Agency (NSA) with customer phone records.

The suit was filed Friday, just a day after USA Today broke the news of Verizon, AT&T and Bell South’s (paid) compliance with the government agency to collect information when a call is made from the companies’ phone lines. Reportedly, Qwest Communications refused access to its phone records without the proper warrants.

Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, two New Jersey attorneys on behalf of Verizon’s 50 million customers, are seeking $1,000 per violation as outlined in the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

“The Telecommunications Act of 1934 is as clear as clear can be,” said Mayer. “You can’t turn over the records of your customers and if you do so it’s $1,000 per violation. The Constitution is very clear. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the Fourth Amendment prevents unlawful searches and seizures which we believe this to be.”

Following the principles of the Fifth Amendment, if not the Fourth, Verizon would not confirm or deny that phone records were supplied to the NSA, but in a statement the company did say, “Verizon does not, and will not, provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition.”

It doesn’t say “did not,” but again, they’re not confirming or denying because they can’t comment on an NSA program “directed against al-Qaeda.” But that wasn’t really the question.

The controversy comes at a time when the telecommunications industry is wrapped up in another heated debate over Network Neutrality, a principle that, if legislated, would bar telcos and cable companies from establishing tiered broadband access. Verizon, among others, have made public verbal commitments to what critics call “the Internet’s First Amendment,” but have lobbied heavily against legislation guarding it.

News of (paid) government spying cooperation will likely dampen the trust Verizon has asked for in dealing with Net Neutrality, especially when added to reported tax break scandals, and “recent rhetorical excesses.”

Civil rights activists are hoping the Department of Justice will not intervene as it appears to be doing in a similar lawsuit against AT&T, filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for allegedly allowing government agencies to tap phone conversations. The DoJ may block the suit from going forward, saying that state secrets may be divulged in the course of the trial.

News of the lawsuit dropped Verizon shares nearer to its 52-week low, plummeting by 1.26% as of 1:31 PM Monday.


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