CWA leads ‘privacy rights’ protest at Comcast Cable

Members and allies of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901 held a rally at the Northeast Portland office of Comcast Cable to protest the company’s handling of customers’ private information.

Similar rallies were held at cities nationwide.

Local 7901 represents 85 Comcast technicians and warehouse workers in Beaverton and 15 warehouse workers in Portland. Nationally, CWA has organizing campaigns under way at Comcast in various states.

Philadelphia-based Comcast recently acquired AT&T Broadband, but as it transitioned from the old to the new, union and citizen activists discovered looser rules in how Comcast handles customer information — information such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit records and more.

“Comcast’s new privacy policy allows it to reserve the right to share information with parties such as potential business transition partners, regulators and professional advisers for legitimate businesses activities related to their cable service,” said Madelyn Elder, president of CWA Local 7901. “We want to know who these potential business transition partners, professional advisers are and what exactly are the legitimate business activities.”

The privacy policy is much looser than that of AT&T Broadband and the language has caused concern with Portland cable regulators and city officials, who say Comcast’s policy leaves the door open to abuses and possibly privacy theft.

Dan Williams, Comcast area director of communications for Oregon and Southwest Washington, told the NW Labor Press that the company’s policy strictly adheres to federally-regulated confidentiality laws.

He said some customer information is shared with collection agencies, marketing firms, or other such businesses that Comcast contracts services for.

In a prepared statement, Comcast said: “Comcast does not disclose customers’ personally identifiable information to third parties unless it is related to providing our services, and we do not sell that customer information to third parties.”

As an example, Williams said Comcast will provide customer information to collection agencies the company has contracted with to collect on past due bills.

“In 100 percent of the cases we have a very strict contract with each company only to conduct legitimate business. We are not in the business of selling information,” he said.

Back at the protest, which lined the entire front of the Comcast office on NE Sandy Blvd., Elder said the company may not be providing sensitive information such as Social Security numbers today, but what is stopping them from doing it tomorrow?

Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission Director David Olson told the Oregonian newspaper that Comcast’s privacy policy violates the company’s local franchise — an agreement it signed to lay cable in city streets — that requires customer permission before any information is shared with outsiders.

Olson told the newspaper the commission could vote to fine Comcast for violating its franchise or it could force the company to rewrite the policy.

CWA Local 7901 is asking cable customers to contact Comcast and ask that their information be taken off any lists that are provided to contract companies. The phone number is 1-800-266-2278.

Comcast has a headquarters office in Beaverton, where it serves more than 600,000 customers and employs more than 1,400 people in Oregon and SW Washington.

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