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FOLLOWING THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS INDUSTRY AND RELATED LEGAL TOPICS

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.

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