BOSTON Jan 8 A plan by AT&T Inc to
explain how it shares some customer information with government
agencies may not be enough to restore public trust, an attorney
for New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told securities
regulators in a letter provided to Reuters on Wednesday.
The attorney's letter dated Jan. 6 keeps alive a
surveillance debate the telecommunications giant had aimed to
settle in December - part of a growing national discussion of
privacy rights fueled by the revelations of former government
security contractor Edward Snowden.
Under pressure from shareholder activists AT&T promised
last month to publish a semi-annual rundown of things like how
many law-enforcement agency requests it gets in criminal cases.
But DiNapoli's office is worried the company's report could
exclude pertinent details, for instance its sharing of customer
calling records or requests for information the U.S. company
might receive from foreign governments on calls by religious
dissidents. By leaving out such specifics, the letter from
DiNapoli's attorney states, AT&T's report "would fail to address
its essential objectives of restoring public trust."
AT&T representatives did not respond to questions.
DiNapoli oversees the $160.7 billion New York State Common
Retirement Fund, which owned 15.7 million AT&T shares as of
November. That month DiNapoli and other privacy advocates had
proposed shareholder resolutions at AT&T and rival Verizon
Communications Inc for their springtime shareholder
The resolutions asked each company for details of customer
information-sharing, and followed revelations from Snowden of
close ties between government agencies and technology firms.
The shareholders say the ties could pose business risks if
customers lose faith in the companies to protect confidential
Both companies have asked the SEC for permission to leave
the proposals off their proxy material partly because of their
promises to publish more details on their data sharing. The
agency will likely rule on the requests in coming weeks.
Jonas Kron, senior vice-president of Trillium Asset
Management, the lead sponsor of the resolution at Verizon, said
it is reviewing Verizon's request to the SEC. How Trillium
responds, he said, will depend on the substance of the first
report Verizon issues that is due early this year.
Kron noted concerns such as whether Verizon would only
provide details of its interaction with "law enforcement"
agencies, which could exclude spy agencies like the Central
Intelligence Agency. A Verizon spokesman declined to comment
beyond its filings to the SEC.