Wednesday, May 17, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT, Verizon Denies Turning Over Local Phone Data:

Verizon, the country’s second-largest phone company, said yesterday that it had not provided local phone records to the National Security Agency as part of efforts to compile a database of calling records to track terrorist activities.


But the statement by Verizon left open the possibility that MCI, the long-distance carrier it bought in January, did turn over such records — or that the unit, once absorbed into Verizon, had continued to do so.

This strikes me in two ways: first, it sounds like a “please don’t sue us” statement; second, can’t they find out if MCI turned over the records?

In regards to “please don’t sue us”:

Because federal law protects the privacy of phone records in the absence of warrants, companies providing such records could face legal action. Yesterday in Manhattan, a class-action suit filed against Verizon after the USA Today article appeared was expanded to include BellSouth and AT&T as defendants, The Associated Press reported. It asked $200 billion in damages.

This does not mean that the program revealed last week does not exist (indeed, Qwest’s experience, along with the lack of denials from the administration make that clear). And then there’s info like this:

A senior government official, granted anonymity to speak for publication about the classified program, confirmed on Friday that the security agency had access to records of most telephone calls in the United States. The official said the call records were used for the limited purpose of identifying regular contacts of “known bad guys.” The official would not discuss the details of the program, including the identity of companies involved.

Verizon’s statement is here and it is a tad confusing. The statement twice states:

Verizon cannot and will not confirm or deny whether it has any relationship to the classified NSA program.

Yet, it also states:

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.

Now, since it says it will neither confirm nor deny anything, what are we to make of the above paragraph?

Further, it is unclear if the statement is meant to cover MCI (which was only recently purchased by Verizon).

Also from the statement is the following interesting tidbit:

Another error is the claim that data on local calls is being turned over to NSA and that simple “calls across town” are being “tracked.” In fact, 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. In any event, the claim is just wrong. As stated above, Verizon’s wireless and wireline companies did not provide to NSA customer records or call data, local or otherwise.

If this is the case, and local calls are not being tracked, why in the world would the administration not say so?–it would have been a way to partially defuse the situation.

The entire situation remains rather murky, to put it mildly.

Kevin Drum is wondering what is going on as well.

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