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AT&T Revises Privacy Policy

June 22, 2006|From Bloomberg News

Revising its privacy policy, AT&T Inc. said Wednesday that personal account information was owned by the company and might be shared with authorities to investigate "potential threats."

"While your account information may be personal to you, these records constitute business records that are owned by AT&T," the company will tell customers in a policy revision that will go into force Friday.

The AT&T statement adds that the company "may disclose such records" to "investigate, prevent or take action regarding illegal activities, suspected fraud" and "situations involving potential threats to the physical safety of any person" as required or permitted by law.

AT&T spokesman Marc Bien said there was "no linkage" between the updated policy and lawsuits claiming that AT&T violated customers' privacy by giving the U.S. government access to their phone and e-mail records. The intention is "to make our policy much easier to read, with more common language and less legalese," he said in an interview. "Our new privacy language does not expand access to user data for AT&T or anyone."

The updated policy also will allow AT&T, based in San Antonio, to track viewing habits if it decides to start a video service, Bien said.

AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. are accused in suits of illegally cooperating with the U.S. government to detect terrorist activity using domestic call records. AT&T has said it has an obligation to assist the government on national security matters and doesn't give out customer information to law enforcement or government agencies without legal authorization.

Verizon won't say whether it participated in such a program. BellSouth last month said it hadn't provided "bulk" calling records to the National Security Agency. AT&T lawyer David Carpenter on June 8 told a judge that the company might raise the defense that it was immune from liability because the government ordered it to cooperate.

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