Options for Promoting Privacy on the National Information Infrastructure. 4. The Telecommunications Act of 1996


The Telecommunications Act of 1996121 imposed new limits on the use of customer proprietary network information (CPNI) by common carriers.122 CPNI is information that relates to the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, and amount of use of a telecommunications service by customers obtained by virtue of the carrier-customer relationship, including billing information.123

Section 222 of the 1996 Act provides that telecommunications carriers may use, disclose, or permit access to individually identifiable CPNI only to provide the telecommunication service from which the CPNI is derived, or services necessary to provide such services, including publishing directories.124 The law establishes three exceptions to this blanket prohibition. A telecommunications carrier may use individually identifiable CPNI to (1) initiate, render, bill and collect for telecommunications services; (2) protect its rights or property, or to protect its users and other carriers from fraudulent, abusive, or unlawful telecommunications services; or (3) provide inbound telemarketing, referral, or administrative services to a customer, for the duration of the call, if the customer initiated the call and approves of the use of CPNI to provide such service. Carriers are required to disclose individually identifiable CPNI to any person affirmatively designated by the customer in writing.

The FCC reviewed public comments on proposed regulations to specify and clarify the obligations of telecommunications carriers under these 1996 Act CPNI provisions.125 It has issued a further request for public comment on the interplay between the non-discrimination provisions and Section 222.126

121. Pub. L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 (1996).

122. Pub. L. No. 104-104 § 702, 110 Stat. 56 at 148, 47 U.S.C. § 222. A "common carrier is a person engaged as a common carrier for hire, in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio or . . . radio transmission of energy . . .". 47 U.S.C. § 153(h). Common Carrier status arises out of the "quasi-public character, which arises out of the undertaking to carry for all people indifferently." National Ass'n of Reg. Util. Comm'rs v. FCC, 533 F.2d 601, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1976).

123. Prior to passage of the 1996 Act, in its Computer II and Computer III proceedings, the FCC promulgated some rules governing use of CPNI. For a background discussion, see 61 Fed. Reg. 26483, May 28, 1996.

124. 47 U.S.C. § 222, 110 Stat. at 148.

125. See, NPRM FCC 96-221, 61 Fed. Reg. 26483, May 28, 1996.

126. See, 61 Fed. Reg. 43031, Aug. 20, 1996.