Verizon Warns Congress of Unbounded Subpoena Power

WASHINGTON - In testimony today before the Senate Commerce Committee, Verizon General Counsel William P. Barr acknowledged that the recording industry faces compelling copyright ownership issues, but said that problem does not justify a "sweeping, invasive, unsupervised" subpoena process.

"Congress hasn't even given such broad powers to law enforcement investigating terrorism," said Barr, referring to the recording industry's subpoena procedure. It grants copyright holders or anyone claiming to be a copyright holder the right to discover the name, address and telephone number of any Internet user in this country without filing a lawsuit or providing any proof of copyright infringement to a judge.

"It opens the door to your identity to people with inappropriate or even dangerous motives, such as spammers, blackmailers, pornographers, pedophiles or stalkers," said Barr. He noted that under this process, there is no provision for consumers to receive notice of the subpoena before their personal information is turned over to a third party.

Barr commended Sen. Sam Brownback for "taking an important first step" in protecting consumer privacy on the Internet by introducing a bill that preserves the fundamental due process and privacy rights of all Internet users.

Important privacy provisions contained in the bill, the Consumer, Schools and Libraries Digital Rights Management Awareness Act, prohibit owners of digital media products from seeking a subpoena for the identity of any Internet user without first filing a lawsuit in court.

It builds in necessary protections for consumers," said Barr. "The next appropriate step is for affected parties to develop effective approaches that combine technical and legal solutions to balance the needs of copyright owners, Internet service providers and consumers."

Saying the D.C. district court has created a "Frankenstein monster" by denying Verizon's challenge to the recording industry's subpoena process, Barr warned Congress that the process could cause irreparable damage to public confidence in the Internet as a medium of free expression and association.

Barr said the company is committed to working with the copyright community to find solutions to copyright infringement without violating the privacy rights of consumers. Verizon promotes legitimate pay-for-music sites such as MP3.com and Rhapsody as part of its ISP service.

"Lawful and licensed access to quality content is essential to the continuing development of the Internet," he said. "The vitality of the Internet relies on the security and privacy of communications."

A Fortune 10 company, Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services, with approximately $67 billion in revenues and 221,000 employees. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 137.6 million access line equivalents and 34.6 million Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon is the third largest long-distance carrier for U.S. consumers, with 14.6 million long-distance lines. The company is also the largest directory publisher in the world, as measured by directory titles and circulation. Verizon's international presence includes wireline and wireless communications operations and investments, primarily in the Americas and Europe. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.