The U.S. government has sued the New Jersey Attorney General's office
on grounds of security concerns to prevent it from asking telephone
companies if they gave customer call records to the National Security
The government wants to stop the disclosure of confidential and
sensitive information, according to the lawsuit filed in Trenton, New
Jersey on Wednesday, a day before phone companies were due to reply to
subpoenas issued by the New Jersey attorney general.
"Compliance with the subpoenas issued by those officers would first
place the carriers in a position of having to confirm or deny the
existence of information that cannot be confirmed or denied without
causing exceptionally grave harm to national security," the lawsuit
New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber sent subpoenas to AT&T,
Verizon Communications Inc., Cingular Wireless, Sprint Nextel and
Qwest Communications International Inc. on May 17 asking if they had
cooperated with the NSA.
The suit charged that New Jersey's attorney general issued the
subpoenas without proper authorization from the federal
government. The lawsuit named AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Qwest and
Cingular, a venture of AT&T and BellSouth, as defendants as well as
Farber and other New Jersey officials.
USA Today newspaper reported last month that AT&T, Verizon and
BellSouth Corp. gave the NSA access to and turned over call data so it
could secretly analyze calling patterns to detect terrorist
plots. This provoked a host of lawsuits and objections from privacy
BellSouth has denied turning over information to the NSA, and Verizon
has said that it does not provide the government with unfettered
access to customer records.
AT&T has said it helps when asked by the government but only within
the law. A lawyer for Qwest's former Chief executive Joe Nacchio has
said that he refused government requests for information.
David Wald, a spokesperson for the New Jersey attorney general, did
not say what Farber's next step would be.
"We acted to determine whether the rights of citizens in New Jersey
have been violated. The federal government told us we could not make
such an inquiry. We will look at this complaint and respond in
court," Wald said.
AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp said, "The filing by the federal government
underscores the fact that the government and not corporations has
responsibility for and control over national security issues."
Representatives for Verizon and Sprint Nextel were not immediately
available for comment. Cingular and Qwest declined comment saying they
do not discuss national security matters.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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