Commlaw Source


Monday, October 29, 2007

Internet Taxes: Battle Lines are Drawn

One of the most hotly debated issues concerning telecommunications this Congressional term comes over whether a permanent ban on Internet taxes should be imposed. The current moratorium expires on November 1. Proponents of a permanent ban is necessary to encourage growth and deployment of the Internet and broadband facilities. Opponents argue that a permanent ban brings too many fiscal implications that harm local businesses who rely on the Internet. Legislators are stuck with the task of trying to strike a bi-partisan balance. The best proposal so far seems to be the recently passed Senate bill which extends the moratorium for seven years while lawmakers work towards a better understanding of Internet access. The bill, H.R. 3878 is now being considered in the House.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Update: Senate Intelligence Committee Passes Bill Giving Telecom Companies FISA Immunity

Late Thursday night, the Senate Intelligence Committee passed a bill, by a vote of 13-2, giving Telecom companies immunity under FISA for the release of confidential consumer information.

While the bill lets telcos off the hook for releasing consumer information under less than perfect court ordered administrative subpoenas and mere requests for information, the issue of whether such warrantless wiretaps and searches are legal still looms.

Whether a bill granting such immunity passes on the Senate floor remains to be seen.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

CPNI: The Government's Playground

On Monday, Verizon, in a letter to congressional lawmakers, revealed that it had provided customers’ proprietary telephone records, or CPNI, to federal authorities without formal court orders hundreds of times since 2005. Specifically, Verizon has provided information including: the identifying information of individuals making phone calls, all of the people that customer called and the people that those people called. Verizon disclosed this information in response to administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI.

The willingness of companies, like Verizon, to provide such a range of information in response to an administrative subpoena begs Congress, the FCC and other regulatory agencies to reexamine this sensitive issue in the future. While, FISA and the Patriot Act permit warrantless surveillance without a court order for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence information for a period up to one year, it remains to be seen whether an administrative subpoena issued by the FBI qualifies as a lawful court order, or whether these agencies are infringing upon the constraints of the Fourth Amendment as an unlawful search of customers’ valuable CPNI.

While it is doubtful the FCC will initiate any action to reiterate that these practices are within the scope of CPNI exemptions, the FCC could take action through a consumer complaint driven process in the future.