The USA Today story about the administration tracking every phone call in the country looks like it is crumbling faster than a Corps of Engineers built levee. First, Bellsouth issued a statement and denied they helped the NSA – or where even asked:
MAY. 16 9:06 A.M. ET BellSouth says it has no evidence it was contacted by a U.S. spy agency or gave the government access to any of its customers’ phone call records, disputing a published report that sparked a national debate on federal surveillance tactics.
The regional Bell, which offers telecommunication services in nine Southeastern states, said Monday it had conducted a “thorough review” and established that it had not given the National Security Agency customer call records.
A report Thursday by USA Today identified BellSouth Corp., along with AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., as companies that had complied with an NSA request for tens of millions of customer phone records after the 2001 terror attacks. Experts said the agency was likely seeking to detect calling patterns in the mountain of data.
“Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA,” the company said in a statement.
BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher said in a telephone interview, “we cannot find anyone within BellSouth who has ever been approached by the NSA.”
The USA Today report, which quoted anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the program, followed earlier revelations of wiretapping on overseas calls without a court order and sparked a renewed national debate over government intrusion into Americans’ civil liberties in the fight against terrorism.
Now Verizon has said in no uncertain terms that they didn’t give the NSA call data and that they were never even asked. Don’t just skim it, it’s pretty forceful.
One of the most glaring and repeated falsehoods in the media reporting is the assertion that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Verizon was approached by NSA and entered into an arrangement to provide the NSA with data from its customers’ domestic calls.
This is false. From the time of the 9/11 attacks until just four months ago, Verizon had three major businesses – its wireline phone business, its wireless company and its directory publishing business. It also had its own Internet Service Provider and long-distance businesses. 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.
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.
There not a lot of ambiguity in that statement. AT&T also issued a statement that was not as categorical but still threw cold water on the story.
It is interesting to note that the phone companies are not only denying that they gave over the data but they are making it clear they were never asked. The phone companies have to play both sides of the fence on this one. If they gave out customer information, a whole ton of customers will be highly annoyed -and sue them- but if they say they refused to give the data it will look like they are refusing to help stop terrorists. That’s why they are being so clear about the fact they where never even asked.
We’ll have to watch over the next few days but this is starting to look like another Rathergate style hatchet job that will fall apart soon enough. You can read more from Sean Hackbarth at the American Mind who has a mini roundup thing going.