Now Verizon Claims It Did Not Hand Over Phone Records
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Verizon Communications Incorporated yesterday joined fellow phone company BellSouth in denying key points of a USA Today story that said the companies had provided records of millions of phone calls to the government.
Verizon has not provided customer call data to the National Security Agency, nor had it been asked to do so, the company said in an e-mailed statement. The statement came a day after Atlanta-based BellSouth Corporation made a similar denial.
“One of the most glaring and repeated falsehoods in the media reporting is the assertion that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Verizon was approached by NSA and entered into an arrangement to provide the NSA with data from its customers’ domestic calls,” the statement read.
The denials leave open the possibility that the NSA directed its requests to long-distance companies, which collect billing data on long-distance calls placed by local-service customers of BellSouth and Verizon.
A story in USA Today last Thursday said Verizon, AT&T Incorporated, and BellSouth had complied with an NSA request for tens of millions of customer phone records after the 2001 terror attacks. The report sparked a national debate on federal surveillance tactics.
The newspaper story cited anonymous sources “with direct knowledge of the arrangement.”
“Sources told us that BellSouth and Verizon records are included in the database,” USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson said.
“We’re confident in our coverage of the phone database story,” Mr. Anderson added, “but we won’t summarily dismiss BellSouth’s and Verizon’s denials without taking a closer look.”
An attorney for the former chief executive of Qwest Communications International Incorporated, on Friday lent support to USA Today’s story. He said the Denver company had been approached by the government, but had denied the request for phone records because it appeared to violate privacy law. Qwest is a regional phone company with a substantial long-distance business. It was not clear if the government’s request applied only to Qwest’s long-distance business.
Verizon’s statement suggested that USA Today may have erred in not drawing a distinction between long-distance and local telephone calls.
“Phone companies do not even make records of local calls in most cases because the vast majority of customers are not billed per call for local calls,” Verizon said.
Yesterday’s denial did not apply to MCI, the long-distance carrier Verizon acquired in January. In an earlier statement,Verizon said it is in the process of ensuring that its policies are put in place in the former MCI business.
Three smaller phone companies,with mainly local business, contacted by the Associated Press yesterday also denied being approached by the NSA. Representatives at Alltel Corporation, Citizens Communications Company, and CenturyTel Incorporated all said they had no knowledge of NSA requests to their companies.
The denials by Verizon and Bell-South leave AT&T as the sole company named in the USA Today article that hasn’t denied involvement. On Thursday, San Antonio-based AT&T said it had “an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare,” but said it would assist only as allowed within the law.
AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said yesterday the company had no further comment.
AT&T Incorporated was formed last year when regional phone company SBC Communications Incorporated bought AT&T Corporation, the long-distance and corporate carrier, and adopted its name.
The other major long-distance company, Sprint Nextel Corporation, has issued a statement similar to AT&T’s.
President Bush insisted yesterday that the government does not listen to domestic telephone conversations among ordinary Americans. But he declined to specifically discuss the compiling of phone records, or whether that would amount to an invasion of privacy.
Senator Hatch, a Republican of Utah, yesterday said that at least two of the chief judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves warrants for intelligence surveillance, had been informed since 2001 of White House-approved National Security Agency monitoring operations, and had not raised objections.
On Monday, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission said the FCC should investigate whether the companies violated federal communications law.
BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T are facing a number of lawsuits by customers who allege violations of their privacy, including one in New York that seeks $200 billion in damages.