Secret manual shows Comcast (gasp!) protects customers' privacy

Posted on October 15, 2007 - 9:51pm.

from: CNET

Secret manual shows Comcast (gasp!) protects customers' privacy
by Declan McCullagh

Comcast's confidential "Law Enforcement Handbook" was publicly disclosed on Monday.

It turns out to be a 35-page manual dated September 2007 for police and intelligence agencies to use when they're trying to extract information out of Comcast about subscribers. The company's Internet service, VoIP telephone service and cable TV service are all covered.

Among the highlights:

• Comcast maintains for 180 days a log of what IP addresses its users are assigned.

• Unread e-mail is deleted after 45 days and sent mail after 30 days.

• Comcast does not automatically keep copies of e-mail downloaded through POP (Post Office Protocol) to a program like Thunderbird.

• Requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are handled through FBI field offices in Philadelphia and Trenton, N.J., which will send an agent to "hand deliver" the documents.

• Court-ordered wiretaps cost police $1,000 for a set-up fee and "$750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original order or any extensions of the original order are active." Also, Comcast will, for $150 a week when legally obliged to do so, divulge lists of calls made and received.

What's perhaps most interesting, though, is that the leaked handbook shows that Comcast seems to be trying to protect its customers' privacy. I didn't see anything in the document offering to divulge more information than the law permits. Instead, the company repeatedly stresses that police follow legal requirements, and even attaches the text of two federal privacy laws as appendixes.

Of course, those laws may be overly fed-friendly, especially when it comes to FISA requests, orders requiring companies not to delete records and national security letters. Blame federal police and a compliant Congress for that.

Comcast representative Sena Fitzmaurice confirmed on Monday that the handbook was legitimate. It was posted by the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News.

It's worth noting that, in a survey CNET conducted last year of Internet service providers, Comcast said "no" when asked: "Have you turned over information or opened up your networks to the National Security Agency without being compelled by law?"

Others, including AT&T, Cable & Wireless and Global Crossing, refused to answer the question.