May 12, 2006 3:20 PM PDT

Telecom firms distance themselves from NSA flap

Following revelations this week that three of the nation's largest phone companies opened their databases to the National Security Agency, other firms are trying to distance themselves.

RCN, which offers cable, phone and Internet services, released a statement Friday afternoon assuring its customers that it had not contributed to the NSA's reportedly vast database of Americans' phone call records. The company hosts more than a million customers in some of the nation's largest metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

"We are committed to the privacy and confidentiality of our customers' personally identifiable information," said Richard Ramlall, a vice president of the Herndon, Va.-based company.

The assertions came a day after a USA Today report that AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon Communications had turned over "call detail records" to the NSA. Call detail records are database entries that document details such as parties in the conversation and the length of the call--but not the content.

The same story noted that Qwest Communications, the smallest of the nation's four regional phone companies, had not turned over information requested by the NSA. That's because the company was concerned that doing so without a warrant in place would violate federal privacy laws, a lawyer to former CEO Joseph Nacchio told The New York Times on Friday. Qwest did not respond to requests for comment from CNET News.com.

Qwest and RCN are likely not alone in shirking the NSA's request. A February CNET News.com survey pinpointed 15 large telecommunications and Internet companies that were willing to say they had not participated in the program.

Verizon speaks up
Firms supplying those assurances included AOL Time Warner, Comcast, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems, Cingular Wireless, Microsoft, T-Mobile and EarthLink.

Although President Bush clung to an unyielding defense of the NSA data mining, the latest news about the big three telecommunications providers has unleashed a fury of criticism from politicians, mostly Democrats. Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, for one, vowed to call in the phone company executives for questioning.

In a statement on Friday, Verizon said it was "fully prepared to participate in such a process," noting that any discussions would need to take place in a setting that offered "safeguards for protecting classified information."

Verizon said it does not and will not provide any government agency unfettered access to customer records, and that there had been "factual errors in press coverage about the way Verizon handles customer information in general."

The company said it would provide customer information to a government agency "only where authorized by law for appropriately defined and focused purposes."

Verizon, which bought long-distance operator MCI in January, said it was ensuring its own policies were also enforced at MCI.

Reuters contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
NSA, Qwest Communications Inc., RCN Corp., MCI Inc., telecommunications

13 comments

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next thing to happen...
is they are going to put video cameras in our homes. for sake of national security of course. while usama is still at large. I guess the people that give power to the government are more of a security threat than him.
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why aren't the other companies bragging?
I'm surprised AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth aren't running commercials
talking about how they are "keeping America safe from the terrorists".
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Reply Link Flag
USGovt Spying on US Citizens
This is insane. Since when did Hitler come back to life? G. Bush and his gang have created a well organized and "greased" POLICE STATE. This comment will undoubtedly get my rear in trouble with our Govt. How the hell did we get to this situation? Are there no Americans left that care about our Constitution, our Courts, democracy and that the Govt. is supposed to exist to "serve" the public. We need a total change in Congress and the Administration. Wake up America!!!! Look around you and realize what is and has happened to our "free" country. Our every word is being scrutinized by our enemy...the US Govt.
Posted by scribb (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Clueless, buddy
Scribb scribbles:

"Since when did Hitler come back to life? G. Bush and his gang have created a well organized and "greased" POLICE STATE. This comment will undoubtedly get my rear in trouble with our Govt."

My first thought when reading that was, "I sure hope so." It's paranoid delusionals like yourself that end up climbing to the top of some tall building with a rifle and start shooting people "because they're all out to get me!"

"Our every word is being scrutinized by our enemy...the US Govt."

Oh, really? Well, let's crunch some numbers, shall we? Let's say 200 million Americans make 5 phone calls a day. That's 1 billion phone calls a DAY.

Question: How many NSA agents would it take to monitor every word, as you claim, of 1 billion phones calls a day?

What's that? Speak up, scribb! People are waiting for your answer!

Wise up, people, get the facts. The NSA isn't listening to these calls, they're compiling a massive database, looking for trends, and, more importantly, should another 9/11 occur, they'll be able to backtrack the perpetrators' phone calls and hopefully arrest those aiding them before those people cause further deaths on our soil.

For those of you who want the FACTS of the matter (as referred to paranoic hyperbole), including some things I bet you didn't know about the issue, check out the relevant articles on:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://powerlineblog.com" target="_newWindow">http://powerlineblog.com</a>

The articles near the top of the page are quite revealing, but make sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to the "NSA Accused of Protecting U.S. From Terrorists" article. Good stuff.
Posted by Joe Bolt (62 comments )
Link Flag
NSA and our Rights
They can get by with doing all of their invasion of our rights by saying that it is all about terrorists and 9-11! The Bush administration scares me more than the terrorists.
Posted by Laceyjane (7 comments )
Link Flag
NSA and our Rights
They can get by with doing all of their invasion of our rights by saying that it is all about terrorists and 9-11! The Bush administration scares me more than the terrorists.
Posted by Laceyjane (7 comments )
Link Flag
NSA and our Rights
They can get by with doing all of their invasion of our rights by saying that it is all about terrorists and 9-11! The Bush administration scares me more than the terrorists.
Posted by Laceyjane (7 comments )
Link Flag
who won?
Did the USSR win the cold war after all?
Posted by AbuAnas (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They're not 'taps' - it's data collection
Typically of the mass media, they use terminology that is incorrect. The NSA never tapped within this framework - they data mined phone call information to places like Qatar, Bhagdad, etc. Any information from phone records is public info, police use it ALL THE TIME...you can request information off the web regarding the same info. The NSA only requested information, which was legal. Folks are pretty clueless if they think that the NSA (since the late 60s) has just recently culled databases or done traffic taps in the past anyway. 99.9% of the time they could care less about your phone calls to that private escort anyway...Almost all the phone traffic that is monitored involves drug dealers in S.America and terror info networks in both Americas.
Posted by jedwards77 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No, you're wrong - this data is private by law
"Any information from phone records is public info, police use it
ALL THE TIME"

Yes, and they GET WARRANTS to do so. Sorry to raise my voice,
but there's a minority of people in this once-great country who
seem to think that if Bush does it, it's OK.

The NSA did not have warrants, and when Qwest actually had the
temerity to ask them to get one, they never came back. Do you
think that points to a request that is confidently legal, (in which
case a warrant would be granted by a judge) or secret half-
measures that dictators usually resort to?

Collecting information that is federally protected not just by the
constitutional right to privacy but by federal statute is illegal.
The NSA has done this, and certain telecom carriers olled right
over and provided the information in violation of the law and
possibly in violation of the constitution.

I don't care what you "Bush is always right" types think anymore
- this is way beyond reasonable, way beyond permissible, and
the program itself would be so easy to abuse by the
unscrupulous (the #3 at CIA had his house raided by the FBI
yesterday...I'm sure they're all straight arrows over there!) that
it's very existence threatens a lot more than simple liberties.

If someone in government wants to know who their political
opponents are calling, they can now find out. They can build
entire networks based on the phone calls of one target -
whether that target is a terrorist or an opposing candidate.
THAT's why the government is required to get a warrant for
these types of surveillance. A judge is the constitutional
protection against an executive branch gone nutty with power
and technology.

What's the big deal about asking a judge is you've got a real
need to peek at someone's phone records? FISA already allows
preemptive searches like this BEFORE a judge is notified. What
the hell is George Bush and his cronies so interested in that they
can't possibly bother a judge and would rather set up the world's
largest database to track every single call made by anyone to
anyone? Hunh?
Posted by Hep Cat (440 comments )
Link Flag
Wrong, not public info
And as the FCC found out, the web sites offering to
sell caller info obtained the data by commiting fraud
and impersonation.
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Link Flag
 

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