- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Two telephone companies that purportedly supplied the National Security Agency with access to millions of domestic phone records have denied participating in such a program.

Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. were among the three telecommunications titans named by anonymous sources last week in a USA Today article, but both issued strong statements this week denying they provided any personal call records to the NSA.

“Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records from any of [its] businesses, or any call data from those records,” according to a Verizon statement yesterday. “None of these companies — wireless or wireline — provided customer records or call data.”

Verizon had issued a far-less-detailed statement last week, but BellSouth issued a strong denial Monday evening that said the Atlanta company conducted an internal review and “confirmed no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA.”

AT&T; Corp. also was named in the USA Today article, which cited anonymous sources “with direct knowledge” of the program. A spokesman for the San Antonio company refused to comment yesterday.

USA Today continued to stand by its story yesterday.

“We’re confident in our coverage of the phone database story,” said Steve Anderson, a spokesman for Gannett Co. Inc.’s flagship newspaper in McLean. “We will look closely into the issues raised by Bell South’s and Verizon’s statements … [and] will continue to investigate and pursue the story.”

Verizon’s statement yesterday did not mention MCI, which Verizon acquired in January. In an earlier statement, the New York company said it was “ensuring that Verizon’s policies are implemented at [MCI] and that all its activities fully comply with law.”

“Clearly there’s a need now for congressional hearings, oversight and investigations because there are different accounts of what happened to the private phone records of American consumers,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington.

EPIC today planned to deliver a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calling for an investigation into “whether personal phone records were improperly disclosed,” Mr. Rotenberg said.

FCC spokesman David Fiske would not comment on the EPIC’s letter, since the commission had not seen it, but he said the FCC had received a similar letter from Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, which it would review and to which it would “respond accordingly.”

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps on Monday called for an inquiry into whether the phone companies’ reported involvement in the NSA program violated any part of the Communications Act.

“We need to be certain that the companies over which the FCC has public-interest oversight have not gone — or been asked to go — to a place where they should not be,” Mr. Copps said.

Qwest Communications International Inc. has maintained from the beginning that it denied the government’s request for access to its customer call records.

Four smaller telecommunications providers contacted by The Washington Times this week — SunRocket Inc., Cox Communications, Vonage Holdings Corp., and Comcast Corp. — all said that the NSA had not contacted them.

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