Investors Ask AT&T, Verizon to Show Government Data Requests

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Trillium Asset Management LLC filed shareholder proposals asking AT&T Inc. to report government requests for customer information.

Trillium also presented a similar measure at Verizon Communications Inc. The resolutions would have the two biggest U.S. phone carriers report what information was shared with American or foreign governments and how often, along with what efforts the companies made to protect the privacy of their customers, said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, a New York-based political advocacy group.

The investors are pushing for more openness after reports this year that major Internet companies and U.S. carriers have cooperated with government agencies by sharing some customer data. In June, the Guardian newspaper reported on a secret court order directing New York-based Verizon to collect call data.

“Transparency allows investors to make informed decisions about corporate behavior,” said DiNapoli, trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund. “Publishing regular reports on requests for information from governments would be an appropriate response to shareholder and customer concerns about trust and privacy in the digital world.”

Bob Varettoni, a Verizon spokesman, said the company has received the proposed resolution and declined to comment on the request.

“As standard practice we look carefully at all shareholder proposals but at this point in the process we do not expect to comment on them,” said Mark Siegel, an AT&T spokesman.

AT&T normally holds its annual shareholder meeting at the end of April, with Verizon following soon after.

More Disclosure

DiNapoli, a 59-year-old Democrat, has used his position as the sole trustee of the $160.7 billion pension fund to successfully push shareholder resolutions requiring companies such as Southwest Airlines Co. and Harley-Davidson Inc. to disclose their political giving. He began applying the pressure after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling allowed unlimited spending by corporations and unions in political activities.

As of Nov. 8, the New York pension fund owned 15.7 million shares of AT&T valued at about $552.5 million, Eric Sumberg, a DiNapoli spokesman, said by e-mail. Trillium has less than 50,000 shares each of AT&T and Verizon, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Trillium, a Boston-based investment-management firm, is leading the Verizon proposal. Other investment firms and organizations –- including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California –- co-filed at one or both of the companies, according to Connor.

“Other technology companies have been providing these reports; it would be good if AT&T and Verizon would also,” said Jonas Kron, Trillium’s director of shareholder advocacy. “It’s a way to rebuild trust, especially internationally, where both companies are looking for growth.”

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