Verizon Denies NSA Sought Call Data

Verizon Communications Inc. denied Tuesday that it had received a request for customer phone records from the National Security Agency, and AT&T said it doesn't give consumer information without a court order, bringing into question key points of a USA Today story.

"Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records," the New York-based phone company said in an e-mailed statement.

A spokesman from AT&T said the company does not "allow wiretapping without a court order, nor has it otherwise given customer information to law enforcement authorities or government agencies without legal authorization."

The statements came a day after BellSouth Corp. also said it had not provided the agency any customer call data.

A story in USA Today last Thursday said Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth had complied with an NSA request for tens of millions of customer phone records after the 2001 terror attacks. The report sparked a national debate on federal surveillance tactics.

The newspaper story cited anonymous sources "with direct knowledge of the arrangement."

Read Verizon's Statement
Read BellSouth's statement
"Sources told us that BellSouth and Verizon records are included in the database," USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson said Tuesday.

"We're confident in our coverage of the phone database story," Anderson added, "but we won't summarily dismiss BellSouth's and Verizon's denials without taking a closer look."

The New York Times had earlier reported the existence of an NSA eavesdropping program on international calls without warrants. Any collection of domestic consumer records would suggest the NSA program was far larger than suspected, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart.

USA Today said in a follow-up story Tuesday that BellSouth did not challenge the initial report when given details about it before publication. But BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher said he never agreed to the reporter's allegations when presented with them.

Verizon also said USA Today erred in not drawing a distinction between long-distance and local telephone calls.

"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," Verizon's statement said.

Verizon's statement Tuesday apparently did not apply to MCI, which Verizon acquired in January. In an earlier statement, Verizon said it is in the process of ensuring that its policies are put in place in the former MCI business.

MCI had a long-distance consumer business, but its main source of revenue was corporate clients.

An attorney for the former chief executive of Qwest Communications International Inc., another regional phone company, said Friday that the company had been approached by the government but denied the request for phone records because it appeared to violate privacy law.

On Thursday, San Antonio-based AT&T said it had "an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare," but said it would only assist as allowed within the law.

BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T are facing a number of lawsuits by customers who allege violations of their privacy. On Monday, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission said the FCC whether the companies are violating federal communications law.

Meanwhile, President Bush insisted Tuesday that the United States does not listen in on domestic telephone conversations among ordinary Americans. But he declined to specifically discuss the government's alleged compiling of phone records — or whether it would amount to an invasion of privacy.

"We do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," Mr. Bush said during an East Room news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. "What I've told the American people is we'll protect them against an al Qaeda attack. And we'll do that, within the law."

The president's new press secretary, Tony Snow, later insisted that Mr. Bush's comments did not amount to a confirmation of published reports that the NSA's surveillance was broader than initially acknowledged and that it included secretly collecting millions of phone-call records.

Mr. Bush said, "This government will continue to guard the privacy of the American people. But if al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know — and we want to know why."

However, the president did not respond directly when asked whether it was a violation of privacy for the NSA to seek phone records from telephone companies.

A Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday on Mr. Bush's nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to head the Central Intelligence Agency. As the NSA director from 1999-2005, Hayden oversaw the government's warrantless surveillance program.

Questions about that program, and new revelations about the NSA's phone data bank, may be obstacles to Hayden's confirmation.