assails Qwest move to stop telling customers of data release
By Greg Griffin, Staff Writer Denver Post
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Qwest had a policy until October 2001 of notifying
customers, when possible, that a subpoena or court order
required it to release their confidential records to the
government or anyone else.
But less than a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks, the Denver-based phone company changed that
policy. Qwest no longer promises it will tell customers
about such releases of information.
Qwest spokesman Nicholas Sweers confirmed the change and
said it was redrafted to comply with the law.
"It's normal to look at and review such documents to make
sure it's in accordance with our understanding of the law,"
he said. "The law does not require notification. Often
court orders do prohibit disclosure."
Qwest's move may have harmed consumers by allowing an
invasion of privacy without their knowledge, said Cathryn
Hazouri, executive director of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Colorado. It deprives them of the ability to fight
a subpoena seeking such records, she said.
Qwest has 14.3 million local-telephone lines in 14 states,
Today, the ACLU plans to deliver to the state Public
Utilities Commission more than 1,800 signatures on a
petition demanding an investigation into whether phone
companies in Colorado illegally shared customer call
information with the National Security Agency.
Qwest's policy change effective Oct. 10, 2001, was
discovered by The Denver Post while reviewing the company's
present and past customer-privacy policies.
"Qwest complies with 'legal process', such as a subpoena or
court order or other similar demand, associated with either
criminal or civil proceedings," the company states in its
That sentence was revised from the previous policy to remove
this phrase from the end: "and, if not prohibited by the
legal document, we will advise you of the demand."
Hazouri questioned whether Qwest notified its customers when
it changed that policy.
"Did they actually alert people to the fact they removed
particular protections?" she said. "You are obligated to
inform the current customers that you have made that kind of
change to their contract."
Qwest did not have an answer to that question Tuesday.
In 2002, when Qwest introduced a plan to use customer
calling records to market new services, it sent out several
fliers with customer bills.
Other phone companies have policies similar to Qwest's.
information, as necessary, to comply with court orders or
subpoenas." AT&T states that it may release confidential
information "without your consent ... to comply with court
orders, subpoenas, or other legal or regulatory
Neither company could provide a copy of its pre-Sept. 11,
USA Today reported in May that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth
provided the NSA with information on customer calls
beginning after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The information
included what calls customers made and received but not the
content of the conversations.
Only Qwest did not provide the information, according to
reports and an attorney for former Qwest chief executive Joe
Verizon and BellSouth have denied providing the information
to the NSA. AT&T said it has not given customer information
to the government without legal authorization. Qwest has
declined to comment.
Staff writer Greg
Griffin can be reached at 303-820-1241 or