RealTime IT News

BellSouth Denies NSA Involvement

We didn't do it, BellSouth said Monday, in response to claims it turned over customer calling records to the National Security Agency (NSA).

The company conducted an internal review to determine the facts in response to media reports that it provided massive amounts of customer calling information under a contract with the NSA, the company said in a statement.

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

Last week, USA Today published a report claiming BellSouth and Verizon gave the NSA their customer calling records to help the agency build a massive database of American telephone traffic.

Previous reports have claimed AT&T has also cooperated with the NSA, providing not only customer calling records but also e-mail data.

Qwest is the only major U.S. phone company that has not been implicated in the allegations.

On Monday, the Mason Law Firm announced it was suing Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth on privacy grounds seeking at least $1,000 for each person whose information was compromised.

"The phone companies that participated in this surveillance program could be on the hook for billions of dollars in damages," Gary E. Mason said in a statement. "It appears that the telephone companies turned over millions of records and the privacy act provides for a minimum penalty of $1,000."

Verizon and AT&T have declined to comment on national security grounds. While not denying the existence of a domestic surveillance program, President Bush insisted last week his administration is not "mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."

BellSouth's denial came on the same day Democrat Michael Copps of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called for the agency to investigate the extent of the phone companies' collaboration with the NSA.

"There is no doubt that protecting the security of the American people is our government's No. 1 priority," Copps said in a statement. "But in a digital age where collecting, distributing and manipulating customers' personal information is as easy as a click of a button, the privacy of our citizens must still matter."

In calling for an FCC probe to determine if phone companies are violating the Federal Communications Act by turning over customer calling records, Copps said, "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."

The various news reports of phone companies cooperating with the NSA in an alleged domestic spying program have prompted several class-action lawsuits against the phone companies.

Earlier this year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against AT&T claiming the telecommunications giant has given the NSA "secret direct access to the phone calls and e-mails going over its networks."

The Department of Justice (DoJ) is attempting to quash the lawsuit on national security grounds.

"The press has already widely reported on the illegal domestic surveillance that is the basis for our case. Allowing a court to determine whether AT&T broke the law would in no way harm national security," EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston said in a statement.

"Indeed, our case is meant to protect Americans -- by requiring that the AT&T follow the law and protect its customers from unchecked spying into their personal communications."