• The US Supreme Court accepted, at the urging of the Obama Administration, a case involving AT&T’s fight to keep secret the information gathered by the FCC during an E-Rate investigation. The Administration wants the high court to rule that corporations may not invoke the personal privacy exception contained in the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The exception may be used only by individuals, the administration said in a brief signed by Elena Kagan, the newest justice who served in the Justice Department as solicitor general until last month. Kagan will not take part in the case which will be argued early next year. AT&T wants the FCC to withhold all the information it gathered from the company during an investigation into its participation in the federal E-Rate program. The FCC had released some of the information pursuant to a FOIA request from CompTel, but withheld some, citing FOIA exemptions that cover trade secrets and individuals’ right to privacy. CompTel, along with several groups that support transparency in government, backed the Administration’s position on the case. FCC v. AT&T, No. 09-1279.
  • A new US Department of Energy report cautions that the rollout of smart grid technologies into US homes raises several data privacy issues that lawmakers need to recognize and address. Smart grid uses telecommunications technology to transmit, distribute, and deliver power to consumers in a more reliable and efficient manner than the traditional electrical grid. It also collects energy consumption data from homes, obtained via “smart meters”, and transmits it back to power distributors. One of the biggest privacy issues is the manner in which third parties should be allowed access to consumer energy usage data. According to the report, “because such data can also disclose fairly detailed information about the behavior and activities of a particular household,” privacy protections must be implemented for ensuring the data is collected, used and shared appropriately. The report is available here.
  • Nearly 4,000 military veterans have been notified of an information breach stemming from a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mismailing incident. More than 6,000 benefit summary letters were mailed to incorrect addresses, including 3,913 that included the wrong veteran’s Social Security number. As a result of the breach, the VA is offering affected veterans free credit monitoring services. The cause of the mismailing was an error by the third-party vendor, says Roger Baker, Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology. The vendor, Performance Analysis & Integrity, merged current veterans’ data with an old address database, causing the letters to be addressed incorrectly. To see the VA’s monthly privacy reports, click here.