From Spam Daily News
Attorneys Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer claim the carrier violated
privacy laws by turning over phone records to the U.S. National
Security Agency (NSA) for a secret government surveillance program.
The federal suit, filed in New York, asks the court to stop Verizon
from turning over any more records to the NSA without a warrant or
consent of the subscriber. It also seeks $1,000 for each violation of
the Telecommunications Act, or $5 billion if the case is a class
Afran and Mayer said they would consider filing suits against
BellSouth and AT&T in other jurisdictions.
Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934,
telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information
regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how
often and what routes those calls take to reach their final
destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are
Orin Kerr, a former federal prosecutor and assistant professor at
George Washington University, said his reading of the relevant
statutes put the phone companies at risk for at least $1,000 per
person whose records they disclosed without a court order.
Section 2702 of Title 18 in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act
prohibits electronic communications service providers from knowingly
divulging a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber or
customer to any government entity without customer consent, subpoena
or court order.
"This is the largest intrusion into civil liberties ever seen in the
United States," said Afran, who is a professor at Rutgers University.
"Americans expect their phone records to be private. That's our
bedrock governing principle of our phone system."
Afran said that he and Mayer will also ask for documents dealing with
the origination of the program and President Bush's role in it.
Verizon said in a statement that because the NSA program is highly
classified, it wouldn't confirm or deny whether the company
participated in the program. It also declined to comment about the
A government official, while not confirming the existence of the NSA
program, pointed to a 1979 Supreme Court case, Smith v. Maryland. The
official said justices ruled that the acquisition of basic phone
records - calling numbers, called numbers and duration of calls - is
not a "search" under the Fourth Amendment and that individuals do not
have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such call record data.
But Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies,
said after that case Congress required courts to approve the use of
electronic devices that capture basic information about calls in real
time, or to get a court order or a subpoena for phone records stored
by phone companies.
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone
call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by
AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the
arrangement told USA TODAY.
Qwest was apparently alone among the four major telephone companies to
have resisted the requests to cooperate with the government effort. A
statement issued on behalf of former Qwest Communications CEO Joseph
Nacchio by his lawyer, Herbert J. Stern, said that after the
government's first approach in the fall of 2001, "Mr. Nacchio made
inquiry as to whether a warrant or other legal process had been
secured in support of that request."
"When he learned that no such authority had been granted and that
there was a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any
legal process, including the Special Court which had been established
to handle such matters, Mr. Nacchio concluded that these requests
violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommications Act and
issued instructions to refuse to comply," Stern said.
Verizon Issues Statement on NSA and Privacy Protection
Verizon Communications today issued the following statement:
The President has referred to an NSA program, which he authorized,
directed against al-Qaeda. Because that program is highly classified,
Verizon cannot comment on that program, nor can we confirm or deny
whether we have had any relationship to it.
Having said that, there have been factual errors in press coverage
about the way Verizon handles customer information in general.
Verizon puts the interests of our customers first and has a
longstanding commitment to vigorously safeguard our customers' privacy
-- a commitment we've highlighted in our privacy principles, which are
available at http://www.verizon.com/privacy.
Verizon will provide customer information to a government agency only
where authorized by law for appropriately-defined and focused
purposes. When information is provided, Verizon seeks to ensure it is
properly used for that purpose and is subject to appropriate
safeguards against improper use. Verizon does not, and will not,
provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer
records or provide information to the government under circumstances
that would allow a fishing expedition.
In January 2006, Verizon acquired MCI, and we are ensuring that
Verizon's policies are implemented at that entity and that all its
activities fully comply with law.
Verizon hopes that the Administration and the Congress can come
together and agree on a process in an appropriate setting, and with
safeguards for protecting classified information, to examine any
issues that have been raised about the program. Verizon is fully
prepared to participate in such a process.
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