May 17, 2006 6:08 AM PDT

Telecoms deny illegally handing over call records

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

Two of the nation's largest phone companies deny that they improperly handed over their customers' domestic calling records to the National Security Agency.

BellSouth and Verizon Communications said earlier this week that they were not approached by the NSA and asked to hand over records to the government.

Verizon said Tuesday said that it was "not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records." It went on to say that "none of Verizon's businesses--wireless or wireline--provided customer records or call data."

The company nonetheless would not confirm nor deny whether it has had a relationship with the government's secret program to track terrorists in the U.S. In addition, Verizon referred in its statement only to businesses it owned until four months ago, but excluded MCI, which it bought in January. Verizon would not say why MCI had been excluded.

Asked by Reuters news service if the NSA had access to Verizon or MCI call records even if they were not handed over to the agency, spokesman Bob Varettoni declined to comment beyond the company's statement.

AT&T has not confirmed or denied it was approached by the NSA. The company said in a statement that it "does not allow wiretapping without a court order nor has it otherwise given customer information to law enforcement authorities or government agencies without legal authorization."

On Monday, BellSouth said it had conducted an internal review and confirmed that it had "not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA."

Joseph Nacchio, the former CEO of Qwest Communications International who is now facing 42 counts of illegal insider trading, said last week the NSA had approached Qwest in 2001 with a request to access private phone records. But according to a statement issued by Nacchio's attorney, Qwest refused to hand over any records because the NSA didn't have a warrant. Qwest, the fourth of the so-called Baby Bell phone companies, has declined to comment on the NSA issue.

The phone companies have come under fire recently after an article published in USA Today said AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon have handed over millions of phone records to the NSA to help identify and thwart terrorist groups working in the U.S. BellSouth on Thursday demanded a retraction.

President Bush last week acknowledged he had authorized the highly classified NSA program, which involved tracking the communications of suspected al-Qaida operatives in the U.S. But the exact relationship between the NSA and the phone companies is still murky at best.

Several lawsuits have been filed in federal court accusing the phone companies of violating the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and several federal laws including the Telecommunications Act. On Friday, Verizon was named in a federal lawsuit filed in New York. AT&T and BellSouth have now been added to the suit.

In January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates privacy rights on the Internet, filed suit against AT&T in a federal district court in San Francisco for also allegedly handing over customer data to the NSA.

Reuters contributed to this report.


Correction: An earlier version of this story did not accurately reflect AT&T's position regarding NSA data mining.

See more CNET content tagged:
NSA, BellSouth Corp., Qwest Communications Inc., MCI Inc., Verizon Communications


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
privacy-not for the telecoms
So the telecoms violate the First and Fourth Amendments, now they're not only denying it, some like AT&#38;T are trying to keep the public in the dark - <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

At least the news orgs like CNet are keeping us informed <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

The telecoms cooperation with the NSA showed they didn't value customer privacy, so why should the big telecoms be granted the privacy denied its customers?

Looking forward to the telecom coverage.
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If another attack comes....
If there's another attack, I hope the folks at CNET, their fellow 'journalists', and members of the vitriolic left dont start ranting about the Bush administration not 'connecting the dots' to prevent it in time.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah OK
Thank you for the hackneyed 'betamax' nonsensical paranoid point of view. Of course, someone was going to chime in with it. Now we've got it. Thanks.

During congressional hearings about 9/11 it came out that the FBI knew about pilots in training, threats to use airliners to hit buildings, al Queda in the US, etc. etc. etc. The major government defense was "we didn't know the actual flight numbers." Hey, how could they've done anything without the flight numbers?

So now it makes sense to give massive amounts of information 99.999999999999999% of which is not related to terrorist activity to the same government agencies? Of course, they'll spot the trend in the data this time. Brahahaha... Ridiculous.

To all those gullable paranoid folks who think the government will save them from themselves: start digging your bomb shelter now and spare the rest of us a lifetime (however abbreviated by terrorist activity) of pointless grief.

The word-smithing in this article is so comically and governmentally inept it's almost humourous. "We didn't give it to them" = "We showed them where it was and how to take it and then we left them alone in the data center for 6 hours."
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Link Flag
Why not?
Isn't "connecting the dots" the excuse that was used to
collect all this private information in the first place?
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Link Flag
Difficult case to defend against!
A difficult case for the telecoms to defend against, since the communication privacy act 1986, is very specific, and the Patriot Act letters of information demand by the FBI can only be applied on an individual case by case basis with prohibition clause, and must be personally signed by the director or agent(facsimile signature reproduction is prohibited by law)(the Constitution and it's amendments prevent the law from illegal fishing)

As for the limiting tort laws, they do not apply as the amount of the fine to be levied is specified by the 1986 law, and is thus mutually exclusive!, so in effect the Verizon class action suit is civilian lawyers doing the government prosecutor's(Gozales' is totalling failing to uphold and defend all the laws enacted here, as required by his oath in office!!!!) job for a fee , so as to speak!!!!!

Oh well, we live in interesting times, where democracies in the west as we know it, are de evolving to mimic Joseph Stalin's Pre WWII Soviet Union or George Orwell's parody novell 1984 and/or return to an absolute dictatorship by a stagnant self chosen limited elite, to create the illusion of a safe modern society, with zero rights and freedoms!

As for death at the hand of the ever elusive terrorist of the type manufacted by our dear leaders or wannabe dictators/ruling for life monarchs(power corrupts absolutely unfortunately, which is why we have in theory limited term democratic elections)! That particular myth can be easily dispelled, by viewing the annual preventable death statistic's available in this modern world, and it will show where the real problems lie, eg 1.2 million people world wide are killed in motor vehicle collisions(100,000 in mainland china alone!), and the list goes on!

Choices, blindly follow our dear leaders path to self destruction, or think for yourself and say No to any more lies or their ever elusive self created illusions!!

Sadly there are those amongst us, that will always remain the ever faithful blind lap dog followers, oblivious to the obvious, and ever willing to abuse all fellow citizens, in the name of defending the regime elite from all, including the countries own citizens!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.