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Phone Companies Plead “National Security” In Response to RI ACLU Record-Sharing Complaint

Posted: June 19, 2006|Category: Privacy

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Responding to a complaint the ACLU of Rhode Island filed last month with the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers regarding allegations that Verizon and AT&T have improperly shared telephone records with the National Security Agency, the two phone companies are claiming that “national security” bars them from addressing the complaint’s allegations and further bars the DPUC from engaging in any investigation of the matter. The ACLU today called the responses “appalling.”

Recent news reports have described how AT&T and Verizon allegedly provided the NSA, without either customer consent or court order, the personal calling details of millions of residential phone customers. The RI ACLU’s complaint noted that the customer information provided to the NSA could “be easily matched with other databases to obtain the name and residence of each caller. This would enable the government to track virtually every phone call made by Rhode Island residential customers, including the identity of the people they called and the length of each conversation.” The complaint called the companies’ release of the data a “systematic and flagrant violation” of customers’ privacy rights and, citing a number of state laws that the release of the information may have violated, requested the DPUC to investigate the matter.

DPUC asked the companies to respond to the complaint, and on Friday they did so, in separate letters to the Division. The flavor of the responses is summed up by this excerpt from Verizon’s letter: “There is no basis to assume that Verizon has violated the law. Further, Verizon is precluded by federal law from providing information about its cooperation, if any, with this national security matter. Verizon accordingly cannot confirm or deny cooperation in such a program … As a result, there would be no evidence for the Division to consider in any investigation.” 

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “The phone companies’ appalling responses are straight out of George Orwell. In essence, they are telling us: ‘You shouldn’t assume we did anything wrong, and even if we did, it’s none of your business, and even if it is, we can’t tell you anyway.’ This encapsulates the Bush Administration’s unceasing penchant for keeping the public in the dark about its so-called war on terrorism, but Rhode Islanders deserve a better answer than that.”

The ACLU’s complaint and the telephone companies’ responses are available at the RI ACLU’s website, www.riaclu.org.

View the ACLU’s complaint and the telephone companies’ responses:

 

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