, SecurityFocus 2006-06-30
Story continued from Page 1
Legally, the change may not amount to much, except as a hint that AT&T will feel unfettered to do what they want with data that has historically been protected by privacy laws, said Eric Goldman, an assistant professor at Santa Clara University and the director of the school's High-Technology Law Institute. Companies frequently talk about the ownership of data in end-user agreements and contract between companies, but the phrase is overbroad, he said.
"It really doesn't make sense to talk about owning data," Goldman said. "You can own it under copyright law, and you can own it under patent law, but oftimes the data talked about in these agreements does not match any of those models."
"If there isn't a big backlash other companies are going to follow suit," Winkler said. "This change to the policy allows companies to make money in any way shape or form with your data."
Moreover, companies can't make use of their service contingent on their customers waiving certain rights, said Chris Calabrese, counsel for the Technology and Liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Not that laws seem to stop much of the surveillance going on today, he said.
"It is part of a dismaying pattern of keeping things secret and saying laws don't apply to you--we see that right now in a lot of government contexts," Calabrese said.
AT&T supporters argued that the company is being unfairly punished for being forthright about their use of data.
"In terms of pro-privacy protections, one of the facets of privacy is disclosure," Tomaszewski said. "Even though they are claiming ownership, they are only saying that they intend to do a limited number of things with your data."
Yet, for the ACLU's Calabrese, disclosure of unacceptable license terms after the secretive acts allegedly attributed to AT&T is too little, too late.
"I would like to say democracy is working as it should here, but it is not," he said. "The state secrets provision is being used repeatedly to circumvent oversight, and perhaps worse, Congress is abdicating its responsibility for oversight."
The ACLU filed a lawsuit in January against the NSA for spying on U.S. citizens in direct contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Calabrese hopes that the attention being paid to AT&T's actions will convince more people to take action.
"The secrecy will stop only when people demand that it stop," he said.