TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Quest Ignored NSA Request

Quest Ignored NSA Request

Katherine Shrader (
Fri, 12 May 2006 18:35:33 -0500

By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer

Telecommunications giant Qwest refused to provide the government with
access to telephone records of its 15 million customers after deciding
the request violated privacy law, a lawyer for a former company
executive said Friday. For a second day, the former National Security
Agency director defended the spy agency's activities.

In a written statement, the attorney for former Qwest CEO Joseph
Nacchio said the government approached the company in the fall of 2001
seeking access to the phone records of Qwest customers, with neither a
warrant nor approval from a special court established to handle
surveillance matters.

"Mr. Nacchio concluded that these requests violated the privacy
requirements of the Telecommunications Act," attorney Herbert J. Stern
said from his Newark, N.J., office.

The Bush administration is facing new questions about civil liberties
after the disclosure that the NSA collected information on millions of
Americans' everyday telephone calls.

On Friday, CIA director nominee Michael Hayden defended as lawful the
secret surveillance programs he oversaw as NSA head from 1999 to 2005,
but he declined to comment on the phone-calls database or specific

"It's been briefed to the appropriate members of Congress," Hayden
told reporters outside a Senate office. "The only purpose of the
agency's activities is to preserve the security and the liberty of the
American people. And I think we've done that."

Nacchio told Qwest officials to refuse the NSA requests, which kept
coming until Nacchio left the company in June 2002, his lawyer said.

In contrast, AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth
Corp. complied with the request to turn over phone records shortly
after Sept. 11, 2001, USA Today first reported on Thursday.

Qwest, the No. 4 U.S. local phone company, serves customers in 14
Western states. Based in Denver, Qwest Communications International
Inc. has come under fire over criminal and ethical allegations.
Nacchio himself is under federal indictment on insider-trading

In a statement, Verizon said press coverage has contained errors about
how the company handles customer information. "Verizon will provide
customer information to a government agency only where authorized by
law for appropriately defined and focused purposes," the company said.

Two New Jersey public interest lawyers sued Verizon on Friday for $5
billion, claiming the phone carrier violated privacy laws by turning
over customers' records. The lawsuit asks the court to stop Verizon
from supplying the information without a warrant or the subscriber's

Lawmakers have been pressing the Bush administration for information
about the NSA's database of telephone records in advance of hearings
reviewing Hayden's nomination to be CIA director, scheduled for next

The White House on Friday reiterated its support for Hayden and the
NSA's operations.

"We're 100 percent behind Michael Hayden," said press secretary Tony
Snow. "There's no question about that, and confident that he is going
to comport himself well and answer all the questions and concerns that
members of the United States Senate may have in the process of

Snow added that questions on classified material may have to be
handled in closed sessions with select senators who are cleared for
access to that information.

Some senators were trying to separate the issue of Hayden's
confirmation from questions about White House decisions and the
surveillance programs.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he didn't yet know if
collection of the phone records was illegal.

Yet Reid said he has no "specific problems" with Hayden going into the
hearing process and said the Air Force general "has always proven to
be a person of intellect and a person of independence."

Republicans, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John
Warner of Virginia, have said Hayden was relying on the advice of top
government lawyers when the operations were initiated.

But Sen. Ron Wyden (news, bio, voting record), D-Ore., an Intelligence
Committee member, said he now questions Hayden's credibility, adding,
"The American people have got to know that when the person who heads
the CIA makes a statement that they are getting the full picture."

The NSA was using the data to analyze calling patterns to detect and
track suspected terrorist activity, according to information the White
House gave to Sen. Wayne Allard (news, bio, voting record),
R-Colo. "Telephone customers' names, addresses and other personal
information have not been handed over to NSA as part of this program,"
Allard said.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said on PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" that
"the president's program uses information collected from phone
companies" - the telephone number called and the caller's number. Bond
is a member of the select panel allowed access to all information on
another controversial Bush program, the warrantless surveillance

After meeting with Hayden on Friday, Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio,
voting record), R-Neb., said he had "absolute confidence" in the
general and that his Senate confirmation hearings should provide the
facts on the monitoring programs.

"He's going to have to explain what his role was. To start with, did
he put that program forward, whose idea was it, why was it started?"
Hagel said.

Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine, praised Hayden
as an excellent nominee. But the chairwoman of the Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs Committee said it was disconcerting "to have
information come out by drips and drabs, rather than the
administration making the case for programs I personally believe are
needed for our national security."

Associated Press writers Michael J. Sniffen and Elizabeth White contributed
to this report.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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