January 14, 2002     Allison Dobson (202) 224-8440


Wellstone Calls on FCC to Protect Qwest Consumers
Telecomm Giant Threatens Consumer Privacy and Share Confidential Information

(St. Paul) – Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) today sent a letter to Michael Powell, Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, urging him to protect the privacy of Qwest consumers faced with a proposed plan by the company to share confidential information with allied companies. In the letter, Wellstone urged Powell to require the company to get consumers express consent before sharing information with its business partners.

“I am writing to urge you to protect the privacy of consumers using the country’s telecommunications system, as is mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996,” Wellstone wrote. “In particular, I strongly support the position of 39 state attorneys general and a number of consumer advocate organizations, who have submitted comments to the Commission. Like them, I urge you to adopt an 'opt-in' approach to the use by telephone companies of Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI).

“An 'opt-in' approach requires an individual consumer to provide consent prior to the release of any confidential records or information relating to that individual’s telecommunications service and usage. Consumers have a right to know that their confidential records, including records of telephone numbers called, will remain confidential. The 'opt-out' approach does not allow a consumer fully to consent to the sharing of their personal information. The notifications are often confusing, and the mechanisms that are put in place for a consumer to notify a provider that they do not wish to have their information shared are often too difficult or impossible to access.

“As you may know, Qwest Communications recently has notified its customers that the company soon may be sharing confidential customer account information with companies that provide support services to Qwest or that have marketing agreements with Qwest. More than 2 million Minnesotans have received or soon will receive a notice in their monthly telephone bill to this effect. The company’s description of the covered account information is consistent with the federal law’s definition of CPNI. Qwest’s approach assumes an 'opt-out' approach to use of CPNI, giving customers 30 days to notify the company if the customers do not want their information shared in this way.

“As a Senator from Minnesota, a state where a majority of households are served by Qwest, I want to express strongly my view that the opt-out approach does not protect customers’ privacy interests as envisaged by Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. I do not believe that most Qwest customers can be expected to have read thoroughly and understood that notice. I believe therefore that a mere failure by individual customers to notify Qwest that they do not want information shared cannot in any meaningful way be construed as actually providing consent to allow the information to be shared. Furthermore, from media accounts in Minnesota and elsewhere, it even appears that a number of customers attempting to opt out of Qwest’s information sharing practices have been unable to do so. I therefore urge you and the Commission to adopt an 'opt-in' approach as it relates to CPNI. It is crucial that the FCC continue to protect the privacy rights of individual consumers and to prohibit telecommunications providers from sharing this confidential information without express consent from the individual.”