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Comcast gets hit with privacy suit

Tue, 05/28/2002 - 8:00pm
Karen Brown

After enduring a firestorm over monitoring cable-modem subscribers' Web-surfing activities earlier this year, Comcast Corp. is now facing a class-action lawsuit claiming that the Philadelphia MSO violated federal privacy law.

Filed in U.S. District court in Michigan, the lawsuit claimed that Comcast's now-discontinued practice of monitoring its 1 million high-speed-data customers' Internet habits violated the 1984 Cable Act, which bars MSOs from collecting personal information from customers without prior consent.

The Cable Act does allow cablers to collect such information if they can prove that they need it for their network operations.

Comcast — which said it was using the data to increase efficiency on its new cable-modem network — discontinued the Web monitoring Feb. 13 after a flood of protests from privacy advocates and subscribers.

The suit seeks damages, including a minimum $100 daily for each Comcast subscriber for the December-through-February period when Comcast was actively monitoring their traffic.

It comes at a time when Comcast is seeking federal approval for its $45 billion merger with AT&T Broadband. Just last week, Comcast president Brian Roberts testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition and Business and Consumer Rights, arguing in favor of the merger.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) brought up the potential privacy-law violation in a letter he wrote to Roberts in February. Markey said he had 'concerns about the allegations raised in these reports and the nature and extent of any transgressions of the law that may have resulted in consumer privacy being compromised.'

Comcast has issued a statement saying it respects its cable-modem customers' privacy and 'has not in any way compromised their privacy or linked Internet-usage data to personally identifying information about any specific subscriber. In addition, Comcast has not shared, and will not share, personal information about where our subscribers go on the Internet, except as required by law or as authorized by our subscribers. We believe the lawsuit is without merit and Comcast intends to defend itself vigorously.'

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