Recently, a town councilmember in Smyrna, Delaware tried to find out the identity of a blogger. The blogger had accused the councilmember of "obvious mental deterioration" and made a pun on his name suggesting he was gay.
ISPs generally will not turn over subscriber information except when required by court order. And such a court order was made - to Comcast. However, the case was appealed and ultimately worked its way to the Delaware Supreme Court. That court ruled that the anonymous blogging was akin to anonymous political pamphleteering, a subject that the US Supreme Court has ruled on.
Specifically, the statements were found to be opinion; Chief Justice Myron Steele wrote: ... no reasonable person could have interpreted these statements as being anything other than opinion. ... The statements are, therefore, incapable of a defamatory meaning.
Bottom line: Comcast was not forced to expose the blogger's identity.
Good job Comcast!
Comcast actually has several privacy policies. For instance, it's got http://www.comcast.net/privacy for internet service. And it's got another for TV service. And another for phone service. And yet another for their website.
And this: We sometimes disclose personally identifiable information about you to our affiliates but with no explanation of what "affiliates" are.
And this: We sometimes also disclose personally identifiable information about you to our employees for Comcast's internal business purposes, as well as to outside auditors, professional advisors and service providers, potential business transition partners, and regulators. ... We may also disclose certain personally identifiable information about you to third parties such as, for example, charities, marketing organizations, or other businesses, in connection with disclosures made for "mailing list" or other purposes as described below in this Policy.
And not only can personally identifiable information include your name, address, cable plan, and usage, but also your internal computer settings, cookies, preferences, and so on.
Cable Office Weighs In
As I understand it then, Comcast is in violation of the franchise and the County has not seen fit to live up to its responsibility and take action. Yes, they have notified Comcast but basically Comcast has ignored them. I have no inside knowledge of these interactions but I can only presume that the Cable Administrator has informed the Executive and the Executive has declined to take further action.
This is a mistake. Protection from abuse by our franchisees is one of the reason we pay our franchise fees - that's 5% on top of the bill that goes directly to the county. In addition, disinterest in enforcing parts of the franchise opens the door for Comcast to ignore other parts with similar reasoning.
So there you have it. Comcast gets headlines for protecting subscriber privacy with one hand while at the same time, well, not protecting subscribe privacy with the other hand. Don't like the policy? Too bad. By using the service, you have already accepted it.