In a victory for shareholders concerned about the role of telecommunications companies in government surveillance programs, Verizon Communications announced that it will begin to publish regular reports on the number of government requests it receives for customer data.
The move came nearly a month after institutional investors filed proposals with Verizon and AT&T demanding that the companies issue semiannual reports on government information requests.
The Washington Post said Verizon’s plan followed “immense pressure” from shareholders and privacy groups and sets “a significant precedent for the telecommunications industry,” which traditionally keeps that information private.
Verizon’s proposed plan is “an encouraging first step” in providing evidence of the company’s long-term commitment to protecting customer privacy, said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, a non-profit organization which worked with investors to develop the shareholder proposals.
The Verizon proposal was filed by Trillium Asset Management LLC, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Park Foundation. A similar proposal, still pending, was filed at AT&T by The New York State Common Retirement Fund, Trillium Asset Management, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and Arjuna Capital.
Jonas Kron, Senior Vice President of Trillium Asset Management, said shareholders were pleased that Verizon appeared to embrace the position put forth by investors. However, he urged Verizon to do more and “be an active participant in implementing reforms that provide genuine and principled privacy protections for citizens around the world. In order for the Internet and our telecommunications infrastructure to realize their full economic potential we need a robust and meaningful system of privacy protections.”
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, on behalf of the $160.7 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, said: “Verizon deserves praise for responding to shareholder concerns and committing to issuing transparency reports. AT&T should follow its lead and disclose what customer information it shares with U.S. and foreign governments.”
Nicole A. Ozer, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said: “Now it is time for AT&T to step up, stop opposing the shareholder proposal, and also start issuing transparency reports. And for both companies to show their shareholders and customers that they have a true commitment to privacy by joining the growing coalition of companies and organizations working to increase transparency about government demands and rein in warrantless government spying.”
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