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FCC Refuses to Investigate Phone Companies for Turning Over Customer Records to Government Spooks

Friday, March 07, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: phone companies, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rejected a congressional request to investigate telephone companies for allegedly turning over confidential customer information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Security Agency (NSA) without proper court authorization.

National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell wrote a letter to the FCC, warning that such and investigation would "pose an unnecessary risk of damage to the national security," and the FCC agreed.

Representative Edward Markey, the member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that requested the investigation, said he was unconvinced by the logic, but not surprised by the FCC's refusal. The FCC's actions, he said, were "unsurprising given that this administration has continually thwarted efforts by Congress to shed more light on the surveillance program."

Controversy has erupted since the discovery that the Bush administration ordered the NSA to tap the phones of US citizens and residents without obtaining warrants. In July, McConnell confirmed that the NSA has carried out other such surveillance programs. Meanwhile, in March the Justice Department reported that the FBI had acted improperly in seeking customer information from telecommunications companies without a warrant, abusing its authority to request an administrative subpoena instead.

According to media reports, AT$T, BellSouth and Verizon all provided the federal government access to individuals' phone records without their consent or knowledge. Qwest reportedly chose not to participate in the program.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has also sent letters to various telecom companies asking for information about their participation in the surveillance program. The committee has asked what information the government asked for, including whether the firms were asked for (and provided) information on who customers were communicating with ("communities of interest") or to install equipment to monitor network traffic, and whether the companies are currently providing any information.

"As reports about government intelligence agencies running roughshod over telecommunications privacy laws continue to surface," Markey said, "I have grown more and more concerned that the rights of consumers are being lost in the shuffle."
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