Conn. Regulators Conclude They Can Probe Phone Records Issue

March 14, 2007

The state Department of Public Utility Control has concluded that despite federal government objections, it has the authority to investigate the release of thousands of phone records to the National Security Agency.

The DPUC, in a draft decision Monday, said that it determined it has jurisdiction to look into the charge that AT&T and Verizon turned over thousands of Connecticut phone records to the NSA without warrants.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut filed its request for a probe with the DPUC in May 2006 after news reports that telecommunications companies turned over calling records of millions of Americans without subpoenas or court order.

In September, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the DPUC, saying it cannot force two telecommunications companies to answer questions about whether they provided customer records to the federal government.

The lawsuit, which is still pending, claimed the DPUC overstepped its authority when it ordered the two telecommunications companies to answer questions from the ACLU.

According to several media reports last year, the NSA was assembling a massive data base to analyze calling patterns to detect terrorist activity.

Renee Redman, of the ACLU of Connecticut, said the DPUC is the first state regulatory agency to indicate it has jurisdiction; Vermont denied a motion to dismiss and ordered that discovery go forward, but has yet to rule further.

The state DPUC rejected the arguments of the utilities as well as the federal government that the state agency was seeking “to intrude on foreign intelligence-gathering and military activities.”

The state agency said it was only interested in whether the two companies violated Connecticut customers’ rights by illegally releasing the information, something that is within its jurisdiction. It also found it has a remedy in the form of monetary fines, if it determines AT&T and Verizon violated privacy rules.

David Goldberg, an attorney with the DPUC, said Monday the agency will take written exceptions to the ruling by March 20, with oral arguments on April 19 and a final ruling expected by April 25.

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