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Telecos under fire for helping NSA wiretaps
Published: 2006-05-15

As evidence mounts that the National Security Agency spied on American civilians, legislators vowed to hold hearings and lawyers continued to file class-action lawsuits against the telecommunications companies that allegedly cooperated with the government.

On Friday, a federal lawsuit was filed against telecom Verizon seeking up to $50 billion in civil damages against the company for violations of telecommunications law. The legal action follows an article in USA Today claiming that the military surveillance agency obtained the phone records of tens of millions of Americans through the cooperation of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.

(Editor's note: BellSouth and Verizon denied the allegations in statements released after this brief was published.)

The revelation that the NSA--an agency traditionally tasked with spying on foreign countries and protecting U.S. communications from surveillance--tapped the communications of U.S. citizens came last December. A follow-up article by the New York Times asserted that the agency is also mining large amounts of Internet connection and e-mail routing data to find patterns that could link certain people with terrorists. Two class-action lawsuits have already been filed against AT&T following revelations that the company allowed the NSA to have full access to any data crossing its network.

A fourth telecommunications firm, Quest Communications, refused the NSA's request for its customers phone records based on the advice of legal counsel, the former CEO said in a statement released on Friday.

The question of the legality and constitutionality of the two NSA programs--one to wiretap communications between suspected terrorists and the other to data mine American phone calls to find links to known terrorists--will likely become the central focus of this week's confirmation hearings of Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, the former head of the surveillance agency who has been tapped by the Bush Administration to take over the top spot at the Central Intelligence Agency.

UPDATE: The article was update on May 18 to link to a news brief covering statements by two of the three telcos, denying the USA Today allegations.



Posted by: Robert Lemos
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