AT&T wins Telco Hall of Shame Network Interference award

After two weeks of voting, the “winner” the Telco Hall of Shame Network Interference Award is AT&T, who was nominated for being BFF’s with the NSA.

The US-based telecommunications company won with nearly a quarter of the the vote, followed by another American telco, Verizon, with 17%.

Finnish-German Nokia Siemens Networks led the polls early in the voting, followed by the UK’s Vodafone, but were quickly overtaken by the US telcos when the two companies publicly announced their support for the proposed privacy-invasive cybercrime bill CISPA.

Each of the top four vote-getters have received widespread international media coverage for major human rights failures over the past five years.

Vodafone first outraged the global internet community when they turned off their networks in Egypt, as part of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s desperate attempt to crush popular anti-government protests. Nokia Siemens Networks drew outrage for equipping the regimes of Iran and Bahrain with equipment to locate political dissidents – many of whom are tortured or “disappeared.” AT&T and Verizon already have a deeply troubled history on user privacy, including compliance with a combined half a million requests from US law enforcement agencies and participating in a warrantless wiretapping program that granted the National Security Agency access their networks.

But it appears that their support for CISPA was what pushed AT&T and Verizon ahead of the others in the final vote: the proposed legislation would allow both companies to share even more user information with the government, with blanket immunity. And it’s not just a problem for American users. Millions of people around the world who place phone calls to the US or have their internet traffic routed through the States would be subject to CISPA’s provisions.

If nothing else, the switch in standings is an indication of how potent and relevant privacy and due process issues continue to be.

We’re sending a letter… and will keep pushing the telcos

In response to your votes, Access will deliver a letter to AT&T to inform them that they have won the Network Interference Award, and to demand that they respect the human rights of their users.

The results of the Telco Hall of Shame vote come at the same time as serious concerns have been raised over the lack of progress by the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy. The Industry Dialogue was formed to provide principled guidance to the telecommunications industry and develop an industry-wide approach to the immense pressure they face from governments to violate their users’ rights.

The Dialogue’s members have had two years to improve policies and operations, but with missed-deadlines and little public communication, the results have failed to inspire confidence. The slow pace of the Industry Dialogue stands in stark contrast to the quick, border-leaping expansion of international telcos into conflicted regions lacking rule of law.

Access will be meeting CEOs directly at the upcoming Annual General Meetings (AGMs). March to June is the ‘AGM Season,’ the period when most companies hold their annual shareholder gatherings, announcing profits and losses and giving ordinary investors an opportunity to be heard. Access has appeared at AGMs in the past, and will inform users and shareholders on how to engage this year.

Access will also continue to monitor telcos globally. In the coming months, Access will launch The Telco Files, a project which hosts dossiers on the human rights policies, infringement, corporate governance, financials, and customer base of each of these telcos. The Files will map relationships, financial and otherwise, among telcos, highlighting subsidiary relationships and sector interconnectedness.

This project will ensure that civil society organizations, journalists, and individual users have access to accurate information on corporations’ human rights policies and practices, assist domestic and regional civil society organizations by clarifying opportunities to advance advocacy on human rights, and draw attention to the all-too-frequent human rights issues in the telecommunications sector.

Telco Hall of Shame

For the 18 days between Jan. 25 and Feb. 11, Access highlighted the human rights failings of telcos in our Telco Hall of Shame, and then asked telco users from the Access community which telco had the worst human rights record. The campaign marked two years since the total shutdown of mobile networks and ISPs in Egypt during the 2011 Egyptian uprising draw widespread global attention to the role telcos play in preserving and protecting human rights. During the campaign, Access sent a public letter to the Industry Dialogue members, calling on them to fulfill their promises and increase public transparency on their operations.

Vodafone and Telenor responded to our open letter to the Industry Dialogue and the Telco Hall of Shame. As we build out The Telco Files, Access will continue to solicit industry responses and incorporate those into our profiles.