York comptroller questions AT&T surveillance report plan
Send a link to a friend
[January 09, 2014]
By Ross Kerber
BOSTON (Reuters) — A plan by AT&T Inc
to explain how it shares some customer information with government
agencies may not be enough to restore public trust, an attorney for
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told securities
regulators in a letter provided to Reuters on Wednesday.
The attorney's letter dated January 6 keeps alive a surveillance
debate the telecommunications giant had aimed to settle in December — part of a growing national discussion of privacy rights fueled by
the revelations of former government security contractor Edward
Under pressure from shareholder activists, AT&T promised last month
to publish a semi-annual rundown of things like how many
law-enforcement agency requests it gets in criminal cases.
But DiNapoli's office is worried the company's report could exclude
pertinent details, for instance its sharing of customer calling
records or requests for information the U.S. company might receive
from foreign governments on calls by religious dissidents. By
leaving out such specifics, the letter from DiNapoli's attorney
states, AT&T's report "would fail to address its essential
objectives of restoring public trust."
AT&T representatives did not respond to questions.
DiNapoli oversees the $160.7 billion New York State Common
Retirement Fund, which owned 15.7 million AT&T shares as of
November. That month DiNapoli and other privacy advocates had
proposed shareholder resolutions at AT&T and rival Verizon
Communications Inc for their springtime shareholder meetings.
The resolutions asked each company for details of customer
information-sharing, and followed revelations from Snowden of close
ties between government agencies and technology firms.
The shareholders say the ties could pose business risks if customers
lose faith in the companies to protect confidential information.
[to top of second column]
Both companies have asked the SEC for permission to leave the
proposals off their proxy material partly because of their promises
to publish more details on their data sharing. The agency will
likely rule on the requests in coming weeks.
Jonas Kron, senior vice-president of Trillium Asset Management,
the lead sponsor of the resolution at Verizon, said it is reviewing
Verizon's request to the SEC. How Trillium responds, he said, will
depend on the substance of the first report Verizon issues that is
due early this year.
Kron noted concerns such as whether Verizon would only provide
details of its interaction with "law enforcement" agencies, which
could exclude spy agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency. A
Verizon spokesman declined to comment beyond its filings to the SEC.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York;
Richard Valdmanis and Alden Bentley)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.