Telecoms Take Heat For NSA Programs - InformationWeek

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5/16/2006
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Telecoms Take Heat For NSA Programs

A Federal Communications commissioner calls for an investigation into their possible roles in secret federal surveillance and data mining programs.

Telecommunications companies are under fire as a Federal Communications commissioner calls for an investigation into their possible roles in secret federal surveillance and data mining programs, while more companies are targeted in lawsuits filed over their alleged participation.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice closed an investigation into the National Security Agency's surveillance program for lack of clearance and information. This week, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps issued a statement calling for another federal investigation specifically targeting private companies' roles in a secret data-mining program.

"Recent news reports suggest that some – but interestingly not all – of the nation's largest telephone companies have provided the government with their customers' calling records," he said. "There is no doubt that protecting the security of the American people is our government's number one responsibility. 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. 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."

Plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York City are also seeking answers. They added AT&T and BellSouth to the suit, which was originally aimed at Verizon.

That case is the second such case filed over the telecommunications companies' potential involvement. The other action was filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T. The Department of Justice requested dismissal of that case, arguing it could jeopardize national security and reveal military secrets.

In the meantime, BellSouth issued a statement regarding an internal review of whether the company provided calling data under a contract with the NSA and other governmental agencies "to keep our nation safe."

"Based on our review to date, we have determined no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA,"

AT&T has said the company follows the law when asked to participate in investigations. The company would not comment specifically on the NSA surveillance or data mining programs, citing national security. Verizon has not confirmed or denied involvement.

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