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BellSouth Denies Giving NSA Data
Firm Conducts Review, Says No Contact Was Made
The Wall Street Journal
By Dionne Searcey and Shawn Young
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

BellSouth Corp. yesterday denied turning over bulk calling records to the National Security Agency, amid uproar over the alleged role of phone companies in U.S. surveillance efforts.

The Atlanta-based company also said the agency had never contacted it to provide massive amounts of information about domestic calls.  A report in USA Today last week said the company, along with Verizon Communications Inc. as well as AT&T Inc. helped the government collect billions of domestic records.

Company spokesman Jeff Battcher said BellSouth waited until now to make a statement so it could conduct a thorough review of all facets of its business, from its long-distance operation to its accounting department and beyond.  The company found no evidence that it had contracts with the NSA or had been subpoenaed by the agency, he said.

"Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists, and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA," the BellSouth statement said.  "BellSouth has built a successful business because of the trust that our customers have placed with us.  We will continue to take our obligations to our customers seriously."

Both Verizon and AT&T, which has agreed to acquire BellSouth in a deal that could be complete by the end of the year, declined to comment.  Verizon issued a statement last week pointing to "factual errors" in media accounts of its handling of customer data and said the company "does not, and will not, provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition."

Joseph Nacchio, the former chief executive of Qwest Communications International Inc. confirmed in a statement last week that he had been approached by the NSA regarding the program in 2001.  Mr. Nacchio said he chose not to cooperate.

Mr. Battcher said BellSouth's chief executive Duane Ackerman had never been contacted by the NSA in relation to providing customer records.  Mr. Ackerman is chairman of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, which is made up of communications executives and advises President Bush on matters of national security and emergency preparedness policy.

Reports of the domestic calling record database caused a public uproar with the companies' customers and civil libertarian groups raising charges of privacy invasion. Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill demanded information from the companies.  And at least two potentially multibillion dollar lawsuits were filed based on similar charges, the most recent one yesterday.

Meanwhile, Verizon and AT&T Inc. seem poised to draw a distinction between the role of their local-phone operations and that of the long-distance businesses that they acquired in recent years, well after the NSA allegedly approached the long-distance companies, people familiar with the situation say.

The White House declined to comment.  President Bush said last week that the government doesn't listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.

---- John McKinnon contributed to this article.

Write to Dionne Searcey at dionne.searcey@wsj.com and Shawn Young at shawn.young@wsj.com


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