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Investor to AT&T – give us a peek at your NSA data dealings

Telco pushed by Arjuna for more details on government requests

By Shaun Nichols, 14 Jan 2016

An activist investor is pressing AT&T for more details about how it handles government data requests.

Arjuna Capital said it will ask at the next shareholder meeting for investors to vote on a proposal [PDF] requiring AT&T to issue detailed reports of the company's policy on providing customer information to the NSA in light of recent revelations of AT&T's handover of information to the NSA.

The Arujuna proposal calls on the company to provide shareholders with a one-time report detailing "to the fullest extent possible" its policies regarding NSA requests for user information.

"The report should address the media reports that AT&T provided NSA access to foreign-to-foreign email traffic and, according to a former employee, to Internet traffic that AT&T transmits for other telecom companies," the proposal reads.

"The report should also clarify whether information volunteered when 'a person's life is in danger and time is of the essence' includes ongoing data sharing arrangements."

The group hopes its proposal will be heard and voted on at the next shareholder meeting, traditionally held on the last Friday of April, the 29th this year.

AT&T had little to say on the proposal, offering the following statement:

We do not comment on matters of national security. However, as we have said before, we take our responsibility to protect our customers' privacy seriously. We respond to government requests for information pursuant to court orders or other mandatory process and, in rare cases, on a legal and voluntary basis when a person's life is in danger and time is of the essence – like in a kidnapping situation.

Arjuna, however, has provided what it says is an SEC filing [PDF] from the telecom giant asking the commission to dismiss the motion to prevent a vote on the grounds that the proposed requirements would be illegal under US law.

AT&T argues in the letter that, in order to meet the basic demands of the proposed reports, it would have to disclose information that, its lawyers say, would put the company in danger of violating federal law.

"Given the focus of the proposal, AT&T does not believe that it could implement the proposal in a manner consistent with shareholders' expectations without, at minimum, either confirming or denying whether it provides information to the NSA above and beyond what is legally required by court order or other legally mandated process," AT&T writes.

"It would be impossible for AT&T to produce the report called for by the proposal without providing information that the United States has deemed classified and over which it has asserted its state secrets privilege." ®

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