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So as an American using your telephone, have you ever had concerns with the safety of your call records?  Well you may begin to be concerned after an unidentified source spoke with USA Today.  Leslie Cauley reported last week, that the National Security Agency (NSA) has “secretly collected the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth”.  "For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made."  Each carrier provided the following statements due to the USA Today publication.

Thursday May 11, 2006-

AT&T
“AT&T has a long history of vigorously protecting consumer privacy.  Our customers expect, deserve and receive nothing less than our fullest commitment to their privacy.  We also have an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare, whether it be an individual or the security interests of the entire nation.
“We prize the trust our customers place in us.  If and when AT&T is asked to help, we do so strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions.  Beyond that, we don’t comment on matters of national security.”

BellSouth 
“BellSouth does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any government agency without proper legal authority.”

Verizon
“We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law, and we are committed to safeguarding our customers’ privacy.”

Even after reading each of these very politically correct statements, it is hard to form an opinion when the source continued to tell USA Today that the collection of the domestic call records of millions by the NSA began after Sept. 11th and was done without any type of warrants.  They continued on to state that each telecom provider was approached by NSA agents asking for the detailed call records as a form of national security.  The source continued by saying that each provider was promised that the NSA was willing to pay for their cooperation.  Even with accusations that these three telecom giants agreed, Qwest on the other hand refused to participate, stating they felt “uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.”
 
After these report were published, lots of meetings and internal investigations were conducted by the telecom giants, and the following was expressed to the press.
 
Friday May 12, 2006

AT&T
Continues to refuse to confirm or deny that it gave records to the NSA, and made this statement, “We have an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare.”

Monday May 15, 2006

BellSouth
“As a result of media reports that BellSouth provided massive amounts of customer calling information under a contract with the NSA, the company conducted an internal review to determine the facts.  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.”

Tuesday May 16, 2006

Verizon
“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’ domestics calls.  This is false.”
 
If there is truth behind the secret collection of our phone records, it may not violate our Fourth Amendment rights, but there are other telecom laws that it will have broken if collected without a warrant.  The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was designed to protect us from illegal eavesdropping, while section 222 of the Communications Act prohibits telephone companies from giving out information regarding their customers’ calling habits. 

The U.S District Court in Manhattan wants some answers.  They believe AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon have violated both our countries telecom laws, and the Constitution.  All three companies have now been named in a $200 billion lawsuit because of their alleged collection and distribution of millions of domestic call records to the NSA.     

It seems too early to tell, but really, who can we trust?  Shouldn’t we feel safe calling our neighbor?  As always we value your opinion and hope you will take the time to provide us with some feedback.  


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