The internet sometimes has a short memory. While Verizon is often (quite accurately) seen as a big company that does some ridiculous things, one issue that the company has been good about for many years is fighting against overly aggressive attempts by copyright holders to identify IP address holders. A decade ago, Verizon was the key player in pushing back on the RIAA’s attempts to identify people it accused of file sharing without filing a lawsuit. If you don’t recall, the RIAA used a rather unique (i.e. totally bogus) interpretation of the DMCA to mean that it could issue subpoenas to ISPs to identify users based on an IP address without first filing a lawsuit. Verizon fought this claim (pretty strongly) and argued for its users’ privacy rights, and eventually the court sided with Verizon. In fact, this fight was a large part of the reason that the RIAA started actually suing users, because it meant that it had to sue first in order to identify.
Thus, it’s not entirely surprising — but still nice — to find out that Verizon is, once again, fighting to protect its users’ privacy. Last fall, we wrote about the unfortunate decision by publisher John Wiley & Sons to follow the trail led by copyright trolls, and start suing groups of people accused of sharing Wiley’s infamous “For Dummies” books via BitTorrent. Similar to copyright trolls, Wiley lumped together a bunch of IP addresses into a single lawsuit — though, it didn’t go quite as far as some trolling operations.
Even so, Verizon is going to court to fight back against the subpoenas for user information. It has a few procedural objections, and also noted (as many courts have found) that lumping together many people in the same lawsuit is improper joinder. But the key issues are privacy ones. Verizon objected that the identifying information isn’t really designed to get “relevant” information for a lawsuit, but rather to send a settlement letter (like most copyright trolling operations). Furthermore, Verizon takes it up a notch by claiming that disclosing such information may violate “rights of privacy and protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
Apparently, there will be a discussion with the court concerning these objections soon, but in the mean time, it’s good to see Verizon, once again, defending some privacy rights for its users.