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You Really Can't Trust the Telephone Company
By Eric de Fontenay (Founder & Publisher)
(more articles from this author)
2003-01-23
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While looking at the RIAA/Verizon dispute over the disclosure of private information of an alleged file sharer, I was reminded of a similar case some 40 years ago involving the then Bell Atlantic. The telephone company, which had terminated service to parties it suspected were using its telephone lines for a sports betting operation, was rebuked by the court which ordered the telco to reestablish service. It ends up that the 'common carrier' role it played prevented it, not only from terminating the service, but even from monitoring what went through its network except for operational reasons.

Common carriage has its roots in British Common Law and was assigned to establishments recognized by the Crown such as ferries, inns,... that were given a monopoly in return for the obligation to serve all comers at a set level of quality. Intrinsic to the concept is that the provider is solely a carrier and must exert no prejudice towards the 'objects' carried, whether they be people, packages, or in the case of Bell Atlantic, telephone communication. As such, the message being delivered by the court 40 years ago was clear: law enforcement is the job of the appropriate government bodies, not the telephone company.

This is in stark contrast to the position Verizon now finds itself after Judge John Bates' decision in favor of the RIAA's subpoena request for the infringer's private subscriber information. Beyond the issue of whether it is appropriate for the RIAA to be issuing subpoenas without prior due process through the courts, what makes the decision particularly interesting is that the infringing material does not even reside on Verizon's network but on the infringer's hard drive. The actual infringing act to which Verizon might be connected is in fact that of other file sharers using its network (among others) to access the illegal files and download them unto their own hard drives. As noted by the company's VP & associate general counsel Sarah B. Deutsch, the decision, if it survives appeal, is likely to have "a chilling effect on private communications, such as e-mail, surfing the Internet or the sending of files between private parties."

Related News from Mi2N:
» Federal Court's Decision Means Less Privacy For Consumers
» Judge Rules In RIAA's Favor In Verizon Dispute


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