October 1st, 2007 11:55 EST
Phone Company Censorship Exposed
WASHINGTON -- Free Press, coordinator of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, is calling for congressional hearings to address growing public outrage over phone company censorship policies. Last week, Verizon made headlines with its decision to ban text messages from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
"Phone companies are supposed to deliver our messages, not censor them," said Ben Scott, of Free Press. "If the phone company can't tell you what to say on a phone call, then they shouldn't be able to tell you what to say in a text message, an e-mail, or anywhere else. We can't trust these corporate gatekeepers. Congress needs to step in immediately to safeguard free speech and the free flow of information."
Verizon's claimed its censorship of NARAL's text messages was a glitch that resulted from a "dusty policy." But the incident is just the latest in a long list of phone company efforts to block, filter or interfere with their customer's legal content. In August, AT&T censored a live webcast of a Pearl Jam concert just as lead singer Eddie Vedder criticized President Bush.
Earlier in the year, both Verizon and AT&T were exposed for handing over private customer phone records to the National Security Agency. The phone companies first denied they were spying but have since launched a secret campaign with the White House to gain immunity from any lawsuits.
Most recently, news has surfaced that both AT&T and Verizon reserve the right to disconnect subscribers who speak out against them. According to Verizon and AT&T's nearly identical "terms of service" agreements, these companies can cancel the subscription of anyone who damages "the name or reputation" of AT&T or Verizon, "its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries."
Verizon Wireless, which banned NARAL's text messages, has even more explicit censorship policies. According to its guidelines: "Verizon Wireless reserves the right to remove or block access to any of the content, by whatever means it deems necessary in its sole discretion, without notice. ... There is a zero-tolerance policy for non-compliance."
"The censorship policies of AT&T and Verizon are what we can expect to see time and again with these corporations as gatekeepers," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "Verizon's text message ban is the same as Comcast blocking our email or AT&T preventing us from making phone calls. We need to put in place laws that protect our right to speak out on the Internet, on cell phones -- everywhere."
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