Thursday, February 20, 2014

Verizon Wireless: NSA Spotlight (2013)

Verizon Wireless Co. logo

Verizon Wireless was founded April 4, 2000 and is headquartered in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Verizon Wireless is the largest mobile network operator in the United States with 119.4 million subscribers as of 2013. The company is also known for their famous slogan, "Can you hear me now?" This slogan has taken on a new meaning, one that has put Verizon in the spotlight. The National Security Agency (NSA) has asked Verizon to fork over information about customer phone calls. Confidential court files have been released showing that the carrier provided National Security Agency with phone calls between millions of customers within the United States. Verizon was ordered under the Patriots Act's Section 215 to hand over these files. The Patriot Act Section 215 authorizes the government to seek secret court orders from the production of "any tangible thing" relevant to foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigation. The court decided to not allow NSA to listen to conversations instead it allows them to monitor who they talked to, from where, and for how long. This is personal information that is being put in the hands of the government to monitor.This is targeting every United States citizen and Verizon subscriber even if there is no suspicion of terrorism. The meta-data they are collecting from every phone call you make is going to paint a big picture of who they think you are. The small pieces of data being collected add up, they can access your phone number, location, call location, time duration, and identifiers. The only thing not covered under the act is the content of the conversation which the government could access if they seek a warrant. One of the many lawsuits is challenging the constitutionality of the NSA and Verizon's surveillance program. Larry Klayman, the former chairman of Judicial Watch, claims this "violates the U.S. Constitution and also federal laws including, but not limited to, the outrageous breach of privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the due process rights of American citizens." Verizon Wireless agreed to cooperate extensively with the government. The New York Times reported that their cooperation had advanced, "Verizon had set up dedicated fiber-optic line running from New Jersey to Quantico, Va., home to the large military base, allowing government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier's operations center." The federal government has always been a big Verizon customer. Verizon says, " we've worked with government organizations for decades. In fact, we are the leading provider of communications services to the U.S. federal government." This single agreement between the NSA and Verizon is worth as much as $2.5 billion over the next ten years. Verizon gave the phone records to the NSA because of their previous agreements and also the money involved. However, their deal also included if Verizon was to tell their customers about this all of their assets would be frozen. Verizon wireless was dishonest with their customers because they did not tell them that their phone calls were being monitored. By not giving their customers awareness of the phone calls being monitored they also received FCC approval to sell part of their wireless business to the British company Vodaphone. They left their customers in the dark for the businesses self-interest.

National Security Agency (NSA) logo

According to the Individualist Theory the goal is to maximize profit for the stakeholders and to act in their best interest. No one has the right to make other peoples choices for their best interest instead we are supposed to respect peoples rights to pursue their choices. By doing this we also need to pertain to the laws of society and human rights. Verizon wireless is the largest cell phone operator in the United States. They also work with and have been the leading network when it comes to the government. It is evident that they are doing everything to maximize profit. By collaborating with the National Security Agency, they are not acting in their best interest. By doing this Verizon Wireless customers are feeling anxious, scared, and untrustworthy to the company and are therefore losing customers and their profit. Losing customer loyalty is not worth the money they are receiving from the NSA. Although Verizon Wireless did not have a choice on whether or not to give the records to the National Security Agency, they did have the choice of whether or not to inform their customers. They chose to leave their customers in the dark to benefit the Verizon Wireless business. Verizon Wireless after the NSA scandal is being seen as unethical, unconstitutional, and an invasion of privacy. Therefore, the view of Verizon has changed completely due to this scandal. Before Verizon was the largest and best mobile network operator. Now, their customers are not sure of their ethics and may switch their provider. In order for the company to regain their past image they would need to stop cooperating with the government and be honest about the scandal.

According to the Utilitarianism Theory, the action is deemed ethical if it promotes happiness to the maximum amount of people. Happiness or pleasure are the only things at intrinsic value. We ought to bring about happiness and pleasure in all beings capable of feeling it and do so impartially. The stakeholders of Verizon Wireless customers did not obtain happiness from the dishonesty of Verizon Wireless. They were not warned that they were being monitored and had no idea until this matter was leaked to the press. The only stakeholder happy with this idea is the CEO because they are receiving money from the government and are also now about to sell part of their business to a British company. The government monitor phone calls also does not follow the Utilitarianism theory. The customers whose phone call records are being monitored are not happy with the government. It goes against their human rights and amendments of freedom of speech, freedom of association, breach of privacy, and due process.

According to Kantian business ethics theory, rational decisions need to be made without your self-interest in made. The decision you make needs to be motivated from your duty and not self interest. For example, you cannot do something because it will give you a good reputation. You need to do it because it is the right thing to do. A business is never exempt from these rules. Therefore the business should always be honest with their customers because it is the right thing to do not for their self interest. Verizon wireless did not do the right thing because they were not honest with their customers. Even when the truth did come out they were acting on their self-interest. They became honest with customers to regain their trust and to have repeat business. The law of humanity states you should, "act in a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means." Verizon wireless did not follow the law of humanity because they were deceitful. Their customers did not know that they were being monitored with every phone call they made. Verizon Wireless and the National Security Agency did not obey by the Formula of Autonomy either. The Formula of Autonomy states, "when we legislate laws, we must be willing to obey them." The National Security Agency did not obey the laws. Every United States citizen has the right to privacy, freedom of speech, and due process. All of these rights were disobeyed in the scandal with Verizon. According to the Kantian business ethics, Verizon Wireless acted unethically when giving the National Security Agency the right to phone records and the NSA also acted unethically because they did not obey the laws.

Virtue Theory
Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Wireless
The Virtue Theory focuses on four characteristics. The four virtues must be met in order for the business to be ethical. The four main virtues of a character are courage, honesty, temperance/self-control, and justice/fairness. The courage characteristic represents the risk-taking and willingness to take a stand for the right ideas and actions. Verizon Wireless knew that handing over phone records was not the right idea or action. They knew that is was violating the amendments but they did not do anything to stop the government from obtaining those records. The second characteristic is honesty which is the agreement to be truthful with the public in hiring and treatment of employees, customers, and other companies. The court order that gave National Security Agency the right to spy on Verizon customers also set certain bars on Verizon disclosing the information to the public. Verizon was not allowed to disclose any information to the public or their assets would be frozen. Therefore, Verizon Wireless was not honest with their customers. They never once told them that their phone calls, phone location, and duration of the phone calls were being monitored. Instead they chose deception. The next virtue is temperance which means the business had to have realistic expectations and desires. Verizon Wireless did not have any prior knowledge regarding the NSA and phone call records. They did not have any expectations regarding this scandal. The last virtue characteristic is justice which is hard work, quality products, good ideas, and fair practices. Verizon Wireless did not try and get justice for their customers. They provided quality products and good ideas but they did not provide hard work or fair practices. Their practices may have been fair in the fact that all of the customers phone calls were monitored but it was not fair for them to violate their customers privacy. Verizon did not demonstrate all of the four characteristics. Therefore, their actions does not comply with the virtue theory. The NSA also would not comply with the virtue theory. They did have the courage to take a stand and make sure they received the phone record files. However, just to spy on U.S. citizens is not the right reason. They did not show honesty to the United States people either. They did not tell them that they were going to be looking over their phone records. Instead they just did. They did show temperance. They were spying on their citizens to try and stop terrorism and find out foreign intelligence. They had realistic ideas and desires in mind but did not go about them the right way. Lastly, justice, their actions were fair. Every Verizon customer was being monitored. They did not pick and choose who they thought was a risk. Overall, the NSA is said to be unethical from the virtue theory standpoint.
The Verizon Wireless scandal involving handing over their customers phone records to the NSA and being dishonest in the process was deemed unethical on all  four ethic theories. Verizon and the NSA's actions were without a doubt unethical no matter what theory you look at it from. Verizon Wireless is not the only business who has undergone this scandal. Many other companies have also come out with information saying that they government also wanted their records on customers. These companies consist of AT&T, Google, and Sprint.


Annear, Steve. "Privacy Expert: Verizon Scandal Impacts Almost Everyone." Boston Magazine. N.p., 6 June 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Fry, Erika. "Edward Snowden and the NSA Leaks." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 27 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Greenwald, Glenn. "NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 06 June 2013. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

Kravets, David. "First Lawsuit Over NSA Phone Scandal Targets Obama, Verizon." Conde Nast Digital, 08 June 0013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Salazar, Heather. "Kantian Business Ethics." 20 Feb. 2014.

Stoll, Ira. "How Regulators Enticed Verizon to Sell Out Customers to the NSA." N.p., 10 June 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

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