Is AT&T cooperating with government intelligence offices like the National Security Agency and sharing its customers’ information with those groups? Sure, it’s fully willing to admit that. But that doesn’t mean it should have to disclose to shareholders exactly what it’s doing with that data, or so it said in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday.
While companies like Yahoo! and Google have been pushing back against the NSA’s data gathering efforts, it appears AT&T is totally on board. In the letter, it said it protects customer information and complies with government requests for records “only to the extent required by law,” reports the Associated Press.
The letter comes in response to an combined effort between shareholders, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the ACLU of Northern California and others to demand that AT&T and Verizon. The groups are demanding that AT&T and Verizon be more up front and explain what exactly they’re giving the NSA.
Companies like Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo! have gone so far as to promise semi-annual transparency reports to detail how many requests the government issues for info and whether or not they comply. That’s the kind of thing these groups want AT&T to do as well.
But AT&T is basically being like, “too bad, so sad” in this case, noting that any information regarding foreign intelligence surveillance activities that it’s helping the government with is classified, and shouldn’t be a required topic of discussion at the annual shareholders meeting this spring.
This reply doesn’t seem to be sitting well.
“It’s outrageous that AT&T is trying to block the shareholder proposal,” said the technology and civil liberties policy director at ACLU of Northern California. “Customers have a right to know how often their private information is ending up in the government’s hands.”
Meanwhile New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who signed the AT&T shareholder resolution on behalf of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, also thinks customers have a right to know what AT&T is sharing. The fund owns more than 15 million shares of AT&T valued at roughly $517 million.
“AT&T has not made it clear to investors or customers what data it shares or with whom. Customers should not be the last to know how their personal information is being used by governmental agencies,” he said. “Customer trust is critical for any business, but nowhere is it more so than for those corporations that handle our personal data and communications.”
An AT&T spokesman isn’t saying anything more on the topic, simply responding that “the letter speaks for itself. We have no comment beyond it.”
AT&T: We don’t have to disclose NSA dealings [Associated Press]