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Verizon Denies Providing Customer Records to NSA
By Dionne Searcey
The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Verizon Communications Inc. today denied a media report that it was approached by the National Security Agency and provided it with data from its customers' domestic calls.

A report in USA Today last week said the company, as well as AT&T Corp. and BellSouth Corp., had handed over to the NSA massive amounts of domestic calling records. BellSouth has denied involvement in the program. AT&T has not commented on its role.

In a statement, Verizon said it can neither confirm nor deny whether it has a relationship with the NSA. The company pointed out in the statement that until four months ago, when it acquired MCI Inc., the company didn't have a large long-distance business.

"Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records from any of these businesses, or any call data from those records. None of these companies -- wireless or wireline -- provided customer records or call data," the statement said.

Verizon also dismissed the suggestion that local calls were monitored, noting that in most cases it doesn't even make records of such calls.

USA Today was not immediately reachable for comment.

Telecommunications company Qwest Communications International Inc. earlier said it refused to cooperate with the NSA after deciding that doing so would violate privacy law.

President Bush insisted Tuesday that the U.S. doesn't listen in on domestic telephone conversations among ordinary Americans. But he sidestepped whether the NSA compiles phone records on millions of people.

"We do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," Mr. Bush said in an East Room news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. "What I've told the American people is we'll protect them against an al Qaeda attack. And we'll do that within the law," Mr. Bush said.

"This government will continue to guard the privacy of the American people. But if al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know, and we want to know why," the president added.

However, Mr. Bush did not respond directly when asked whether it was a violation of privacy for the NSA to seek phone records from telephone companies.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the telephone industry, should open an investigation into whether the nation's phone companies broke the law by turning over millions of calling records to the government, FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps said.

"There is no doubt that protecting the security of the American people is our government's No. 1 responsibility," Mr. Copps said in a statement. "But in a digital age where collecting, distributing and manipulating consumers' personal information is as easy as a click of a button, the privacy of our citizens must still matter."

When the NSA developed the programs it was under the direction of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, now Mr. Bush's choice to succeed Porter Goss as head of the Central Intelligence Agency. The eavesdropping program and the phone call databank are likely to be the focus of questions Thursday when the Senate Intelligence Committee begins Hayden's confirmation hearings.

Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he wants to gather testimony from phone company representatives about how they work with the NSA.

An FCC investigation, if undertaken, would be the second attempt this year by the government to explore an aspect of an NSA program. The Justice Department sought to investigate the role of its lawyers in the warrantless eavesdropping program, but it ended the inquiry last week because its lawyers were denied security clearances.

Meanwhile, Monday's lawsuit in Washington asks the court to immediately bar the phone companies from turning over records. The complaint also seeks a penalty of $1,000 for each violation of federal privacy laws, an amount that could reach billions of dollars for turning over tens of millions of records. It mirrors a similar lawsuit filed last week in New York.

--The Associated Press contributed to this article

Write to Dionne Searcey at dionne.searcey@wsj.com

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