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Verizon Claims Free Speech Over NSA Wiretapping 391

Posted by Zonk
from the corporations-shold-have-the-right-to-have-babies dept.
xvx writes "Verizon is claiming that they have the right to hand over customer information to the US government under the First Amendment. 'Essentially, the argument is that turning over truthful information to the government is free speech, and the EFF and ACLU can't do anything about it. In fact, Verizon basically argues that the entire lawsuit is a giant SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit, and that the case is an attempt to deter the company from exercising its First Amendment right to turn over customer calling information to government security services.'"
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Verizon Claims Free Speech Over NSA Wiretapping

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  • to mod legal arguments Funny.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jimstapleton (999106)
      I agree.

      Actually, my thoughts are this:

      If they waved those rights in their contract, then their argument shouldn't have any weight - they agreed not to tell.

      However, if they did not wave those rights in the contracts with customers, then their argument seems sound to me.
      • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:17AM (#19035313) Journal

        "However, if they did not wave those rights in the contracts with customers, then their argument seems sound to me."

        Companies aren't people, and as such do not have the same rights that people have. Verizon is grasping at straws to avoid having their ass handed to them in a class-action lawsuit.

        • Biologically speaking, you are correct, however I thought US law effectively made a corporate entity a "person" with said rights.
          • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:31AM (#19035507) Journal

            "iologically speaking, you are correct, however I thought US law effectively made a corporate entity a "person" with said rights."

            Nope. Corporations can't vote, hold office, etc. They can't even sign agreements (only authorized representatives - REAL people - can sign, and they need to be authorized by other REAL people (sorry for the caps :-); if its a high-enough level, then it needs to be a board meeting that grants the authorization).

            • by Creepy (93888)
              yeah, but you could always replace Verizon with, say Verizon's CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, and since he has the "right" to look at anyone's phone record for no reason whatsoever because he's CEO of the company, he could presume it's also his "right" to give that information to anyone he wants. The only exception might be if the "terms of use" prohibit sharing of private information such as conversations, which I would think would have to be true in some way (either by clause or law). Replace CEO with any privil
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by ReverendHoss (677044)

                Of course, if you go along that route, and empower a corporation with the rights of the CEO, you would also need to impart onto the CEO the responsibilities of the corporation. Suddenly the CEO's of tobacco companies would be defending themselves in court for negligent homicide, rather than just having shareholders annoyed at the dip in stock price following cash settlements.

                I'm willing to bet this is a road most corporate executives don't want to go down.

            • Bingo! (Score:4, Interesting)

              by Gription (1006467) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:24AM (#19036399)
              (To risk the wrath of our Corporate Overlords. . .)
              The first amendment is a right of The People. A lot of the problems that we have stem from lawmakers (conveniently) forgetting that the Bill of Rights are the people's rights and that corporations clearly aren't people and unless there is an amendment to the constitution to change it, corporations do not get those protections.

              It think the confusion seems to spring from the fact that campaign contributions and lobbying money mostly comes from corporations. I wonder if a blanket ban of contributions from any source other then individual people would make anything work better...
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by xappax (876447)
              It's true that American corporations don't have all the rights of American citizens, but they have a lot of the most important ones, and they have a hell of a lot more money and influence to assert those rights through the courts.

              Check this as a starting point for more info: Corporate Personhood [wikipedia.org]
          • by uncoveror (570620) <webmaster@@@uncoveror...com> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:19AM (#19037315) Homepage
            There are several court cases that hinged on the concept of "corporate personhood". It can be a challenge for a non-lawyer to understand them, but below are a few links. http://www.reclaimdemocracy.org/personhood/ [reclaimdemocracy.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juristic_person [wikipedia.org] http://www.straightdope.com/columns/030919.html [straightdope.com]
        • by towsonu2003 (928663) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @12:02PM (#19037955)

          Companies aren't people
          I am sorry to say that corporations [wikipedia.org] [1] are people... Not only that, but their only duty as "legal persons" is to profit, no matter what. And because they are so powerful (unlike real, individual persons), you are living in Corporate America: America ruled by corporations...
          Under the current law governing corporations, I think Mr. Verizon's legal claim stands. Go figure...

          [1] That documentary is a must see...

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by ajs (35943)

            Companies aren't people

            I am sorry to say that corporations [wikipedia.org] [1] are people... Not only that, but their only duty as "legal persons" is to profit, no matter what.

            No, not really. First off, you're confusing corporations with for-profit, publicly-traded corporations (I'll say FPC for short) which, surprisingly, are in the minority in most developed nations. That said, they're also the majority employers, and the longest lived on average, so it's not unfair to generalize about them... however, I think you should be explicit about such generalizations. They're also not "persons", strictly speaking, though the enjoy some of the rights of persons in the U.S.

            The duty of a

      • ...to warn the pope about some poop he's about to slip in, and the pope doesn't hear it, because, well, it's only one hand, or paw rather, but then a tree falls on the bear, killing the bear, and startling the pope, who looks up from the path, and slips on the poop, but the bear was well intentioned because the bear only *had* one hand, or rather paw, to begin with anyway, does the bear thusly enter into the kingdom of heaven?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:54AM (#19034905)
      If I had a choice about phone companies they may be right. Since there is no viable competition to the RBOC in my area and they are government regulated their argument holds less weight. The fact of the matter is that there is a legal prohibition against the government obtaining this information without a warrant. This argues strongly for the expectation of privacy. So should the government be able to do an end run around a law by going to a company whose very life they control by asking them to "voluntarily" give them the information they (the gov't that is) are forbidden by law to get except with a warrant. Sounds like something from 1984 (the book) to me!
  • by wiredog (43288) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:46AM (#19034753) Journal
    Since Free Speech is enshrined directly in the Constitution while Privacy is not (it's an indirect right. See Roe Vs Wade for more info), they could have a good (legally, not morally) argument.
    • by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:52AM (#19034863) Journal
      It's a rather fascinating take too. What we need to do is publish the executives and lawyers personal information along with SSNs and credit card numbers publicly, after all, it's the truth and therefore free speech!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by halcyon1234 (834388)
        What we need to do is publish the executives and lawyers personal information along with SSNs and credit card numbers publicly, after all, it's the truth and therefore free speech!

        Good idea, but your ambitions fall short of the mark:

        We should be publishing the content of every single Verison R&D server, database, desktop, etc. Trade secrets? Nope, free speech. New products with a "we must be first to market to make this work?" Nope, free speech. Patented, propritary product designs? Nope, free

    • by Bagheera (71311) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:54AM (#19034895) Homepage Journal
      As I understand it, Commercial Speech is not protected under the 1st amendment. Customer records would certainly fall under that definition. The reality is, Verizon's clutching at straws to try and make it look like they're just exercising their rights by divulging customer information for no good reason.

    • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:58AM (#19034953) Homepage
      Nice try, but I don't think so. If this were the case, then copyright, medical privacy laws, laws protecting identity theft, etc. would all be unconstitutional. It just doesn't make sense. They are really grasping for straws.
      • by LehiNephi (695428) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:11AM (#19035217) Journal
        It really makes me wonder how much pressure Verizon finds itself under. We know the public and legal pressure they face in the courts as a result of handing over that information, but to make a statement like this certainly gives the appearance of "grasping at straws," as you say. That means that there's an awful lot of pressure coming from the other side. And since handing customer information over to the government is not (in and of itself) in Verizon's own interest, there must be some serious pressure coming from somewhere.

        I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but I think there's more than meets the eye here.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dr.badass (25287)
        If this were the case, then copyright, medical privacy laws, laws protecting identity theft, etc. would all be unconstitutional.

        There is a difference between "not in the Constitution" and "contrary to the Constitution" (i.e. unconstitutional).
    • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:08AM (#19035175) Homepage Journal
      It's also well established that commercial speech can be regulated more than individual speech. An in this case it is indeed by ECPA and other statutes limiting disclosure of information about private communications.

      Generally, any facts which come into your hands by legitimate means are yours to publish. The exceptions are when you have a special duty of privacy (e.g. attorneys and physicians), information that you are contractually obligated to keep private, or commercial information that is regulated.

      It's clear to me that Verizon doesn't have much chance with this line of argument, the new Supreme Court being something of a wild card. If they win, it will have an interesting side effect. All communications carried by Verizon could potentially be claimed by them as their property to dispose of as they wish. They could sell the content of your text messages or emails, or a list of who and by whom you are called.

      It's a pretty far out argument, but as I say they may find friends on the newly radicalized Supreme Court.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by russ1337 (938915)

        Generally, any facts which come into your hands by legitimate means are yours to publish. The exceptions are when you have a special duty of privacy (e.g. attorneys and physicians), information that you are contractually obligated to keep private, or commercial information that is regulated.

        I would have thought Verison had a privacy statement along the lines of We'll do all we can to keep your information private... etc but might give statistical information blah.. or to our advertisers... and partner co

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      So that would mean you're...disparaging rights not enumerated in the constitution?
      • by Alaren (682568) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:19AM (#19037335)

        Which is why I find it very frustrating that your point is not generally accepted by legal professionals.

        It comes up a lot on /., probably because we have some degree of reading comprehension. The Constitution--and the intent of those who included the Ninth and Tenth amendments in the Bill of Rights--clearly points to a "natural law" approach, wherein it is unnecessary to enumerate every right worth protecting.

        But the current jurisprudence is that the Tenth Amendment (with small exception under Rehnquist and O'Connor, who of course are both gone) is a "tautology," basically stating that whatever power the federal government hasn't taken, the states get to keep. Whether the new court continues to expand federalism will probably depend on who the next president is; if Republican, the court will continue to expand his powers at the expense of the states. If democrat, the court will probably stick to the ideological arguments their party used to make in an attempt to limit his or her party's power.

        The current jurisprudence on the Ninth Amendment is: ignore it at all costs! Roe v. Wade was actually decided on a right to privacy prtected by the Ninth Amendment... by the appellate court. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, though it still found a right to privacy embedded in there somewhere, oddly enough. The problem with the Ninth Amendment is that it is something of a pandora's box. I believe that under judicial review, the Supreme Court has the power to interpret the amendment (note the Court gives "content" to other amendments all the time), but it has refused to do so, citing judicial activism. Robert Bork has described it as an "inkblot." Early on in our country's history, when natural rights were well accepted, the Ninth Amendment had some influence. But in the past hundred-plus years, well, let's just say that under modern jurisprudence the Ninth Amendment may as well not exist.

        In the interet of balance, it should be clear why this is the case. Imagine a liberal Supreme Court uses the Ninth to find all forms of abortion constitutionally protected. Or a conservative Court uses it to protect people who preach in public schools. This could go back and forth and extend to literally anything involving a "right," real or imagined; basically the Ninth Amendment has the potential to allow the Court to decide as it pleases without further legal analysis. This is not ideal... but the counterargument is, don't they frequently do that already anyway?

        At any rate, I am not a lawyer (yet!), and this is not legal advice. But I cannot tell you how happy it would make me to someday be able to tell someone, "Yes. Your obvious natural right to privacy is protected by the Ninth Amendment."

    • Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

      Therefore, Verizon may not be sued by its customers for turning over their private data to the government.

      ?????????
  • I can yell "FIRE" in a crowded theater... if I'm petitioning the Government (maybe on the subject of what it should do with GWB)?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by djmurdoch (306849)
      I can yell "FIRE" in a crowded theater... if I'm petitioning the Government (maybe on the subject of what it should do with GWB)?

      The Verizon argument was that their "speech" was true. So yes, if there really is a fire in the theatre, you should raise the alarm.

      Of course, you'll probably be arrested as a terrorist when you do, but that's life.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by elrous0 (869638) *
        So if it's true that someone wants to kill the President, they should be allowed to sing it from the rooftops with no legal consequences?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Shakrai (717556)

          So if it's true that someone wants to kill the President, they should be allowed to sing it from the rooftops with no legal consequences?

          Is it actually against the law to do this? It is illegal to threaten to kill him -- but is it actually illegal to want to kill him?

          I.e: "I'm going to kill Bush" is obviously a threat. "I wish somebody would kill Bush" doesn't seem like one.

          • by elrous0 (869638) *

            "I'm going to kill Bush" is obviously a threat.

            But what if it's true? That doesn't mean someone could go around saying that and arguing "Well, I was just telling the truth" as a legal defense.

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:01AM (#19035043)
      What Verizon is arguing is that it's okay to break ANY law as long as only "speech" is involved. This would effectively legalize death threats, threatening the President, painting swastikas on synagogues, and about a million other things.

      It is also a tragically pathetic ploy at trying to justify something they KNOW DAMN WELL is wrong, in the service of a growing police state. They are more interested in sucking up to this administration (and their own business interests, since they are in various federal legal battles [twice.com], federal merger fights [mondaq.com], etc.)

      If this is the best legal justification they can come of for doing it, they would be much better served by simply turning the tables, refusing to do it, and forcing the federal government to make THEIR case for it.

  • but that argument makes no sense at all
  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:48AM (#19034793)
    ... why is the Bush administration trying to pass a bill allowing for "retroactive immunity for all telecommunications companies"? If there's nothing wrong with what Verizon has done why would the current administration need to cover Verizon's ass with this legislation? Smell's fishy to me ... I wonder if Verizon has done more than the public is aware of?
  • How Orwellian (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbone (558574) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:48AM (#19034799)
    I think Orwell left out a slogan :

    War is Peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    Ignorance is Strength

    Spying is Free Speach
  • by WED Fan (911325) <akahige&trashmail,net> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:50AM (#19034835) Homepage Journal

    They have a point, but man, that ranks right up there with:

    • The Klan is a legal social club
    • The Westboro Baptist Church has a right to protest at gay funerals
    • Neo-Nazis have a right to march in Cincinnati
    • Michael Stipe has the right to any haircut he likes

    I'm 10 months into a 2 year contract with Verizon. I'm cancelling as soon as possible.

    • I'm 10 months into a 2 year contract with Verizon. I'm cancelling as soon as possible.

      Me too. I will feel so much secure with AT&T *rolls eyes*
    • Verizon's case is significantly less arguable than the ones you listed, given that they're basing their arguments on the "free speech rights" of a "corporate person", rather than on the free speech rights of actual people. (Because you know damn well no-one at Verizon would be brave enough -- or stupid enough -- to try this as individuals, unprotected by corporate avoid-personal-responsibility shields.)

      And to respond to the obvious -- yes, Klansmen and Nazis and homophobic wackos are human. Pretending t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      They have a point, but man, that ranks right up there with:

      * The Klan is a legal social club
      * The Westboro Baptist Church has a right to protest at gay funerals
      * Neo-Nazis have a right to march in Cincinnati
      * Michael Stipe has the right to any haircut he likes

      Actually, I don't think they have a point that is parallel to those. Each of those is an example of something bad that doesn't really

  • Oh come *on*! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by inviolet (797804) <slashdotNO@SPAMideasmatter.org> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:53AM (#19034877) Journal

    The first amendment protects us from government censorship. It's awfully brazen of Verizon to try to stretch that into protection of collusion with government. Especially when the speech in question is not political or even personal.

    Verizon might have a tenuous point if they were simply selling the data to another company. Instead, since the only possible government use of Verizon's data is to enable crackdowns, the matter seems to fit better under the fourth or fifth amendments, both of which would arguably prohibit the whole transaction.

    Thomas Paine's speech [wikipedia.org] is protected; Benedict Arnold's [wikipedia.org] is not.

  • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:53AM (#19034889)
    So under "free speech" it's legal for a shopkeeper to give out his customers' credit card numbers to anyone who asks ... or for an IT person to release sensitive research information to the public ... or for doctors to release patient records? Verizon's argument is crap.

    -b.

    • by N8F8 (4562)
      Before you make such a statement maybe you should get an idea of what information they gave.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        Before you make such a statement maybe you should get an idea of what information they gave.

        Irrelevant -- I'm saying that their *argumentation* and *reasoning* are simply wrong.

        -b.

        • by N8F8 (4562)
          If I was a landlord and the Police came to me and asked me about my tenants activities (coming and going, visitors, etc) because they suspected someone in the building of a crime, I should be barred from talking to them?
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by shofutex (986330)
            This would be more like the police asking you for all of your tenants activities because one of them might possibly be talking with someone who might be thinking of committing a crime.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      So under "free speech" it's legal for a shopkeeper to give out his customers' credit card numbers to anyone who asks

      Sure! It's in the founding fathers' lesser-known "Ammendment 1.5": "Congress shall make no laws that restrict big business from doing whatever the Hell it wants to, whenever the Hell it wants to, to whomever it wants to--providing said action shall be in the best interests of profit."

  • by packetmon (977047) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:57AM (#19034935) Homepage
    So giving away customers' data is the right of the first amendment... That would mean companies like TJX whose data was compromised could argue that it wasn't their responsibility to protect the customer's data since it was distributed in free speech fashion as well no... Think about the logics of the argument... Verizon: "We gave the data away because its our first amendment right. We can do as we see fit..." TJX: "We weren't compromised. We gave your personal data away. Its our first amendment right." How many companies will follow this misleading notion. And how many greased-pocket (monkey)judges will side with VZ on this. This country is becoming one big capitalist wild west where privacy means nothing.
  • Is This a Parody? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quantam (870027) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:58AM (#19034961) Homepage
    The first amendment was supposed to protect dissenters from government suppression. Since then it has come to be considered protection from almost anyone who the speaker is speaking against. To use the first amendment for the benefit of the government against the people seems like a parody.
  • If Verizon can and should be "exercising its First Amendment right to turn over customer calling information" to the government then they can and should also be exercising its First Amendment right to turn over [complete] customer calling information on a public website.

    -
  • Is it 1982? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SpacePunk (17960) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:03AM (#19035071) Homepage
    You know it's coming folks. War is peace, freedom is slavery. More and more, companies and people are using phraseology, spurious logic, and blatant redefinition to justify doing evil things.
  • First amendment rights trump other laws. Just yesterday I was exercising my rights by posting a torrent of Spiderman 3. Today, I will exercise my rights by making my music collection accessible via Kazaa. Who could object? Verizon's got my back.
  • Here is the first amendment [wikipedia.org]:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    It says petition the Government for a redress of grievances. How can giving the government my phone records be considered a petition to redress grievances? This is ridiculous.

    • Well, I think that Verizon is incorrectly interpreting "petition to redress grievances" broadly as the "ability to communicate and express whatever is on the corporations mind" to the government. In general, a person or corporation can do this, and may not be penalized by the government for doing so. However, if you have an agreement to keep information private, you can still release the information to the government, but you will be liable for contract damages to your customers.
  • by TheWoozle (984500) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:05AM (#19035113)
    Verizon's lawyers are simply perpetuating a common misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Yes, we are free to say what we please. No, we are not free from the consequences of what we say.

    In old example of yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, the problem is not the speech itself, but the resulting stampede and probable damage to people and property.

    Slander is another example. You are free to stand up in public and say all sorts of nasty things about someone, but then they can sue you.

    If Verizon wants to claim First Amendment rights, fine. We'll just start a class-action lawsuit.
    • They are not using what we consider to be the core "free speech" part of the first amendment, but the right to petition the government part.

      Since they are not giving the data to the public, but instead to the feds, they are arguing they are covered by this.

      In general this part is covered by the right of Americans, for example, to have any legislation they wish introduced to the Congress. You draft a bill and your Representative will introduce it. They won't support it probably, but you will get an H.R. numb
      • by kcurtis (311610)
        Also, an addendum since I cannot edit...

        The amendment says "and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" -- where are the grievances upon which Verizon is petitioning the Government?
    • by sluke (26350)
      I don't doubt your premise, but I find the way you have stated it perhaps a bit too broad. How can there be freedom of speech if there are no protections at all from the consequences of that speech? As an example, is not locking you up and throwing away the key a consequence that the first amendment was likely seeking to rule out?
  • If a corporation wants to turn over records on me to the government without my knowledge or consent, that is free speech.

    If I want to tell you all about this number I learned about (here's a hint, the first hex block is "09"), it's a CRIME!

    Why does something not seem quite right here?

  • by einer (459199) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:07AM (#19035153) Journal
    Companies should not be treated like citizens. Or, if they ARE treated like citizens, they should be just as accountable as citizens. They have the best of both worlds. They have more influence than you (just try getting heard by a congressmen without a lobbyist) over YOUR GOVERNMENT. For crying out loud. These entities are writing our laws AND influencing our legislative elections. Sure they can't vote, but they can sell the government the machines used to tabulate the count.

    We need some severe curtailment of corporate rights. Immediately.
  • by Keyslapper (852034) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:07AM (#19035163)
    ... is that everyone assumes that companies have First Amendment rights. Isn't the Constitution (and all subsequent Amendments) intended to protect the rights of the individual citizens? Corporations seem to claim corporate law when it suits them, and constitutional law when they want a little more leeway.

    I know companies are supposed to have protections - in fact the must have some protections, but any time a company uses citizenship protections to claim the right to violate a real citizens right to protection from illegal search and seizure, something is wrong. In fact, any time a company is seen as having protections that supersede any individuals, something is very wrong.

    This doesn't mean that Verizon should absolutely refuse any and all cooperation with the government - quite the contrary, but they should at least demand due process. That's a responsibility they take when they accept our custom. For my part, any indication they've handed my info over, they'd better have some very specific, rock solid warrants on record. As it is, I'm inclined to drop all their services at earliest opportunity. Too bad, they actually have the best offerings in my area, thought they're a bit on the costly side.
    • by FellowConspirator (882908) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:47AM (#19036765)
      In the US, companies are generally treated as people under the law ("juristic persons"). This stems from a series of cases from the late 19th century involving the railroads that made it to the US Supreme Court (the most famous being Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company [118 U.S. 394 (1886)]). The Court didn't actually rule that corporations were people under the law, but that's how many people understood it, and that's more or less how we've operated ever since. Most legal and constitutional rights are afforded to corporations just as they are to individuals.

      This has all sorts of very negative implications with regard to attempting to regulate business. Many people feel that it make the individuals second-class citizens in the eyes of the law -- and there's some really good arguments to that effect. Your "free speech" rights probably end at your employer's door, and if you sue you have to pay for your lawyers while for a company it's a tax-deductible expense (e.g., it's effectively subsidized by the government).

      Verizon's blowing proverbial smoke through it's corporate anus here, though. Free speech is a poor argument in this case. First, not all speech is "free speech" and violating the reasonable confidence of a client would not be considered free speech. Factual or not, the information is of a personal nature and the individual would have a reasonable cause to believe it to remain private. It's no more free speech than if a lawyer violated the attorney-client privilege, of a psychologist had done the same.

      Further, in Verizon's case, the "speech" consitutes aiding and abetting a criminal act: the government's violation of the 4th ammendment rights of Verizon's customers. While the government was engaged in the criminal activity, they could not have done so without the complicity of the company, who thus became an accessory to the crime.

      George Bush famously said "there ought to be limits to free speech," and there are -- this is one such case. You can't cry "fire" in a crowded theater, you can't spread viscous rumors to torpedo someone's career, you can't talk about magic numbers that can be used to access digital media (OK, that's just stupid), and you can't provide sensitive information to the government that the explicitly requires them to obtain only with a court order after presenting a reasonable cause that an individual might be involved in criminal activity.
  • Man... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by faloi (738831) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:08AM (#19035181)
    I care less about the legal arguments and merits of the case than I do about what this says about Verizon's respect for customer information confidentiality. I was thinking about swapping because my current carrier has crappy sound quality (but a lot of bars!), and my hearing is bad enough that I'd rather have good quality and dropped calls. Not that your run of the mill we were a monopoly now we're not a monopoly hey we're a monopoly again carrier would do any better with privacy...
  • Precedent (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RyoShin (610051) <tukaro.gmail@com> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:08AM (#19035183) Homepage Journal
    Well, looks like we've been given a free pass.

    Who wants to be the first to tap into the phone lines of Verizon execs and lawyers to hand over to the government? A Slashdot is fine, too.

    Oh right, we're just citizens. I guess that means this "right" is only really held by Verizon.
    • The phone lines you'd be tapping are owned by Verizon. You'd be trespassing. Your argument has nothing to do with free speech.
  • by kimvette (919543) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:11AM (#19035219) Homepage Journal
    Try posting your confidential client information here and see if Verizon considers it freedom of speech. Things like, oh, passwords, code snippets, and so forth. Does the first amendment cover posting client information?

    Will Verizon sue me for making this suggestion to their contractors and employees, despite my merely exercising my freedom of speech as provided for under the First Amendment of the Constitution of The united States of America?

    Or is the first amendment intended to protect voicing of unpopular opinions, especially political opinions, and not to be used to reveal confidential client information?
    • By signing an NDA, you sign away your right to free speech in regards to specific data.

      I'm not sure what contract one signs or terms of service one agrees to when one signs up for Verizon phone service, but I'd bet it gives them the ability to sell data they collect.
      • by kimvette (919543)
        By accepting client information (including ss#, which is illegal to request for purposes other than identification for federal services) and money in exchange for providing services, the company waives its right to freely share confidential client information with other entities.

        Oh well, it doesn't affect me either way; I have cable at home, and use a non-verizon Cellphone. I have not had a land line since 1996 since I detest Verizon. Why should I speak up on the matter since it doesn't affect me? :-p
        • By accepting client information (including ss#, which is illegal to request for purposes other than identification for federal services) and money in exchange for providing services, the company waives its right to freely share confidential client information with other entities.

          Oh? Since when does the act of accepting information mean that information can't be shared with others? It's convention, due to good business sense, to keep client information confidential -- but in no way is the right to do so wa

      • by symbolic (11752)
        An obvious solution then, is to have customers refuse to conduct any business with Verizon (and others) who refuse to include an NDA as part of the contract. But that requires an educated consumer, and one that's more interested in making sure things are done correctly, rather than simply enjoying the convenience they'll derive. Freedom isn't always convenient.
  • Gosh, think of all the man-hours wasted over the years by prosecutors and beat cops, scraping together enough probable cause for a judge to authorize a wiretap, or subpoena a call record. They should have just asked the phone companies to exercise their First Amendment free speech rights!
  • There is nothing unconstitutional about getting people to spy on their neighbors or turn over information as private citizens or companies. They are not part of the government, which means the BoR doesn't apply to them. However, if you could prove that the federal government did some intelligence community equivalent of legally deputizing them, that would be different. Right now, if they've violated any legal thing, it's a statute, not part of the US Constitution.

    What this means is we need a constitutional
  • by arkham6 (24514) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:17AM (#19035311)
    Since when do corporations get to claim protections from the constitution? Since when do they get first amendment rights?

    Does this mean that corporations can start owning firearms and having their own militias, per the 2nd amendment? Does this mean that they can't testify against themselves per the 5th amendment?
  • Kneejerk (Score:3, Interesting)

    by N8F8 (4562) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:18AM (#19035327)
    I believe most of the reactions I'm reading are based on misinformation spread in the pres that the data given amounts to wiretapping. Please read:

    Scenario 1: A house down the block from you is known or strongly suspected to be used for drug trafficking. To gather information about the drug trade and investigate individuals the police park an undercover cruiser nearby to write down license tags of those who visit the house. Those tags are then used to identify the individuals and possibly obtain warrants and wiretaps.

    With me so far?

    Ok, move this scenario to the virtual world.

    Scenario 2: The police need a way to identify potential criminals/terrorists. The closest thing they have to monitor traffic is the phone connection history from the phone company. This history is a huge database of call origination end termination identifiers. They analyze this data to identify folks making calls to known or suspected criminals/terrorists. When they thing they have identified a suspicious call they get a warrant and go back to the phone company to identify the caller so they can then apply for wiretaps. They don't have the "content" of the call or a recording of it, simply a record of start and end points.

    Like it or not, the police need some way of tracking activity. In the physical world this is by monitoring any activity in public view. In the virtual world this translates to identifying the "path" each communication took on its way from caller to receiver..
    • by lenski (96498) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:38AM (#19035633)
      ...It's monitoring *everyone*. The point to the tracking program was to note the originating and dialed numbers for *all* conversations, not merely those between suspects and the rest of the world. Furthermore, the whole argument from the beginning is that FISA provides for getting permission to monitor up to 72 hours from the start of the monitoring process.

      FISA is intended to provide *exactly* the flexibility required to enable surveillance responsive to changing conditions (the genesis of the 72-hour provision), while still requiring the judicial review that is part of the fourth amendment's requirement of showing probable cause.

      And I agree with other commenters that customer transaction records (be they phone calls, or reporting on who bought what groceries for how much) is by no stretch of the imagination "protected free speech".
  • And we would boycott them too.. if they weren't a state sponsored monopoly..
  • The 4th amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
    QED, bitch.
  • As soon as my contract is done with Verizon, they can shove their fucking phone service squarely up their ass.
    • You know you can cancel early right?

      Rogers tries that too. It costs me $55 a month for this stupid cell. If I have a year left on my term and don't want a phone anymore, it's actually cheaper to pay the $200 cancellation fee than 12*55 for the year. I had to cancel a friends cell that I had on my plan once and they tried to argue it was smarter to keep it. I broke out the times table on them and showed that not paying $300 extra for a phone I wouldn't use is smarter.

      That being said, they totally abuse t
  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:26AM (#19035447) Homepage
    It's a pretty ridiculous argument to make in light of the fact that there are already laws in place to restrict that specific type of information. Further, Verizon isn't a person, so I'm not sure that it would qualify as an entity capable of weilding first amendment rights.
  • IANAL, but IMHO the Bill of Rights applies to individual citizens, and not to public corporations.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      IANAL, but IMHO the Bill of Rights applies to individual citizens, and not to public corporations.

            It also applies to corporations, otherwise they would be "above the law". God forbid. The hard part though is assigning responsibility when a corporation does a no-no. Do you go after the manager? The board? The shareholders? Personally it would be nice if a corporation's charter got revoked once in a while. That would make them think seriously about breaking the law.
  • If everyone who disagreed with the position that Verizon has taken on the issue of what constitutes free speech then perhaps they might rethink their position. I propose that on June 1, 2007 we all refrain from using Verizon services.
  • by Dunbal (464142)
    I will turn over all medical information I have on Verizon employees who are patients of mine to anyone who asks, in the name of free speech.
  • by pubjames (468013) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:42AM (#19035699)
    I can't believe the number of posts I am seeing that say that they might have a point, or legally they might be correct. The USA has gone nuts. Where did everyone's common sense go?
  • "privacy is a skill not a right"

Lend money to a bad debtor and he will hate you.

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