Recently, American consumers were rocked by information that Verizon Wireless has been turning over customer information and phone records to the National Security Agency (NSA) in compliance with a secret court order issued last April. While the government claims that this is being done to battle terrorism, many Americans find these actions disconcerting and are holding Verizon responsible for the breach of privacy.
No stranger to large public crisis, Ronn Torossian, the CEO of 5W Public Relations firm out of New York City, sees the rising problem. Fears are arising that Verizon wasn’t the only company to do this, and all telecommunications companies are being eyed wearily by the public. To avoid being painted with the same brush as Verizon, Mr. Torossian is giving four tips to telecom companies on what their public relations people should say to reassure their customers, and head this boondoggle off at the pass.
Immediately Reassure Customers of Non-Involvement
So far, only Verizon has been named for turning over information to the government, and while it is possible other telecom companies may have done so as well, those who haven’t should stand up and say so, showing the American people that they weren’t involved.
Stand Strong for Privacy
It has long been the credence of telecommunication companies that they will not listen in on or turn over records concerning a client’s phone unless ordered to by a warrant commissioned by a judge. Even in these cases, those companies have been known to comply begrudgingly and will not release information outside the scope of the warrant. In light of these actions (even though a warrant was issued), it is time for telecom companies to declare again that they refuse to allow an invasion of their customer’s privacy.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Sue ‘Em
It is within the power of any telecommunication company to challenge a warrant in open court. While not likely, or suggested, for warrants concerning things like a kidnapping or murder where one or two sets of phone records are required to be contested, it is entirely in the interest of these companies to oppose large-scale warrants gathering information of thousands of customers. A promise by the big telecom companies to show in open court an opposition to a massive breach of privacy would go a long way to placating their customers.
Tell Customers Where to Complain
Many are mortified by this; many don’t care. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham says that he has nothing to hide, so he doesn’t mind. And for those customers who don’t mind, not much can be done. However, for those who do care, the telecom companies should use public relations through social media and traditional media, to tell their customers where they can send their complaints to the government–if for no other reason than not having to farm through them themselves.
For numerous Americans, this was a massive breach of trust, and the telecom industry has to get out in front of the bad press that is coming down the mountain toward them.