Last summer the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered Verizon to hand over phone records to the National Security Agency “on an ongoing daily basis” and not disclose the court order to anyone. The order wasn’t supposed to be de-classified until April 2038, but London’s Guardian newspaper published all the details.
Since then, the German government cancelled its Verizon contract over fears of NSA spying. And earlier this month the Federal Communications Commission slapped the company with a hefty judgment against it, as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) reports:
Verizon will pay the Federal Communications Commission $7.4 million to settle claims that the company violated the privacy rights of nearly two million customers. …
Specifically, the FCC alleged that "for several years Verizon used its customers' personal information when tailoring marketing campaigns without first providing its customers with the required notice or obtaining their consent." The head of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau stated, "It is plainly unacceptable for any phone company to use its customers' personal information for thousands of marketing campaigns without even giving them the choice to opt out."
The Verizon payment is the largest consumer privacy settlement in FCC history. In addition to the payment, Verizon is also required to "improve how it protects the privacy rights of its customers. For example, Verizon will now include opt-out notices on every bill, not just the first bill.
Last year EPIC urged an FCC investigation of Verizon for its disclosure of customers’ records to the NSA, in violation of their privacy rights and the Telecommunications Act.
Consumers are completely dependent on Verizon for the protection of their personal phone records [because] electronic surveillance routinely occurs without any noticeable disturbance to the target or to innocent bystanders whose personal communications are intercepted. Thus, millions of consumers had no way of knowing that their personal information had been illegally provided to the NSA by Verizon.
Hopefully, the FCC’s ruling and fine will give telecommunications companies pause next time they’re tempted to violate their customers’ privacy for cash. More transparency and better protections are also sorely needed to help reign in demands from the FISC that companies hand over private information—or pay hefty fines.