Tuesday, June 06, 2006

ACLU Wants FCC To Examine NSA Issue in AT&T/BellSouth Merger

I wonder if the FCC will get a national security waiver to avoid dealing with this complaint.

The American Civil Liberties Union asked the Federal Communications Commission yesterday to withhold approval of AT&T's acquisition of BellSouth until it reviews allegations that the companies gave customer records to the government without warrants.

In its filing, the A.C.L.U. cited a provision in the Telecommunications Act that says that in considering a merger, the commission must "weigh the public-interest harms of the proposed transaction against the potential public-interest benefits."

The group said the F.C.C. should determine if AT&T and BellSouth handed over phone records to the National Security Agency's surveillance program and, if so, whether that violated any privacy laws.

The A.C.L.U. action comes after USA Today reported last month that AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon provided the agency with call records on millions of Americans in surveillance done after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The F.C.C. is in a position to determine whether the USA Today story is true and can bring the companies to the table and figure out whether they are providing customer information to the N.S.A. and what is the lawful authority for doing so," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty project at the A.C.L.U.

In its letter to the commission, the A.C.L.U. noted that BellSouth had denied participating in the surveillance program. But it voiced concern about what would happen if the company linked up to AT&T.

"It would be a cruel irony if BellSouth had not participated in the program but as a result of this merger, BellSouth customers became unwilling surveillance targets," it said.

It is widely known in Washington that the NSA has used third parties -- data-brokering private sector companies -- to obtain some of the subscriber information in question, thus allowing some telecoms to claim truthfully that they had not provided any data to the NSA.


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