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NSA Phone Database Story Continues to Crumble

First Bellsouth and Verzion denied they gave NSA call data and even denied they were asked, now Bellsouth is rasing the bar and demanding a retraction.

BellSouth demands USA Today retract NSA claims

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - BellSouth Corp., the No. 3 U.S. local telephone company, on Thursday demanded USA Today retract claims in a story that said the company had a contract with a U.S. spy agency and turned over customers' telephone records.

BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher denied the company had a contract with the National Security Agency and did not give access or provide call records to the spy agency as part of an effort to thwart any terrorist plots.

USA Today reported last week that the NSA has had access to records of billions of domestic calls and collected tens of millions of telephone records from data provided by BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T Inc..

"BellSouth insists that your newspaper retract the false and unsubstantiated statements you have made regarding our company," BellSouth said in a letter to USA Today President Craig Moon and the general counsel at the newspaper's parent company Gannett Co. ...

"We did receive the letter this afternoon. We're reviewing it," said USA Today spokesman Steven Anderson. "And we will be responding."

BellSouth's Battcher said the company resorted to demanding the retraction because the newspaper had not retracted the story after the company's denial issued on Monday. Plus, the company was facing lawsuits claiming that customers' privacy rights were violated.

BellSouth on Tuesday was added to a $200 billion lawsuit which accuses the three large telephone carriers of violating privacy rights by turning over customer phone records for use in the NSA program.

I mentioned in the last piece the big telcos were likely to be sued over this and that was one of the reasons for the strong denial. That turned out to be dead on.

It will be interesting to watch how USA Today responds. When the media goes after Bush with a concocted story, there is no artificial deadline to retract it. In the Rathergate case, CBS never would have retracted the story without the continued blogosphere pressure. This case is different in that it could possibly cost Bellsouth a quarter of a trillion dollars and unlike Bush, they can take action against the paper.

If the paper stands by the story, they themselves stand to be sued for billions by the telcos or by the shareholders who have seen their share value decrease. If they retract the story they join CBS in being suckered by a bad source.

The pressure for USA Today to either back up the story or retract it is going to be quite strong. I don't think this one will drag on for weeks like Rathergate. When Bellsouth takes off the gloves, something is going to happen quickly.

And unless Bellsouth is bluffing, Dan Rather and Mary Mapes may soon have company on the wall of shame.

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Comments (19)

This would indeed be sweet,... (Below threshold)

This would indeed be sweet, a trial. Which side would Johnny Cochrane work for? And would there be ANY media coverage?

epador, seeing that Johnny ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

epador, seeing that Johnny Cochran is dead, he'd be on USA Today's side, on work-release from Hell.

J.

I'm just an idiot who can't... (Below threshold)
Lee:

I'm just an idiot who can't read.

While tempting ( and I am n... (Below threshold)
cubanbob:

While tempting ( and I am no fan of Bell South)I doubt that they will sue the paper. I forget the name of the case, but back in 1964 the Supreme Court in a case involving the NYT made a ruling that makes it almost impossible to sue a newspaper for slander or defamation unless intentional misconduct can be proved which is highly unlikely.

bob they can sue for anythi... (Below threshold)
Paul:

bob they can sue for anything

bob, Bell South can... (Below threshold)
KobeClan:

bob,
Bell South can sue for any economic damages they suffer defending themselves as a result of provably false information printed in USA Today.
Falls outside the parameters of slander. They have a VERY good chance of winning, they just are not entitled to punative damages.
Besides, what makes you think it wasn't intentional. Bush Kool-aid is a powerful brew that makes sane people do insane things.

I can't stop thinking that ... (Below threshold)
Stephen:

I can't stop thinking that this whole business is another canary trap like the "secret European Prisons" story. Soon there will be a perp walk featuring a Bush-hating CIA staffer, or State Department feather-nester.

"BellSouth spokesman Jeff B... (Below threshold)
mojo:

"BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher denied the company had a contract with the National Security Agency and did not give access or provide call records to the spy agency as part of an effort to thwart any terrorist plots."

Rather an artful statement, that. No contract with the NSA, huh? DOD, maybe? Commerce?

Nail these guys down. Did you sell CDR data sets to anybody, and if so who?

Did you sell CDR data se... (Below threshold)
Toby928:

Did you sell CDR data sets to anybody, and if so who?

Well, its reasonable to believe that they have sold the data to telemarketers and such, just not to government 'Spy' agencies. I think that's why they are parsing so carefully. I don't think that they will reveal their marketing contracts.

Tob

did not give access or p... (Below threshold)
Toby928:

did not give access or provide call records to the spy agency as part of an effort to thwart any terrorist plots.

Also neatly worded to distinguish between this datamining program and specific requests via Fisa letters and whatnot. Note the terrorist plots
not ongoing investigations or soemthing similar Clearly written by lawyers.

Tob

mojo said: Rather an art... (Below threshold)
Lee:

mojo said: Rather an artful statement, that. No contract with the NSA, huh? DOD, maybe? Commerce?

Or maybe they just handed it over to the NSA with no contract at all...

Or maybe they just hande... (Below threshold)
Toby928:

Or maybe they just handed it over to the NSA with no contract at all...

Except that they appear to be flatly denying handing data over with the caveat that they didn't hand it over as part of an effort to thwart any terrorist plots. Maybe they did hand data over for some number of specific cases via FISA letter or supoena. Definitely slipper wording though.

Tob

All we know right now is th... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

All we know right now is that USA Today reported that the three telecoms provided records to the NSA, and that a few days later the telecoms denied it. Who's telling the truth? How do we know? Did the telecoms provide different info to the NSA than was reported? Or did they provide nothing at all?

Only their hairdresser know... (Below threshold)

Only their hairdresser knows for sure.

Kobe/Paul, the courts rulin... (Below threshold)
cubanbob:

Kobe/Paul, the courts ruling gives the media a rather wide latitude of protection from suits. That is why there are so few of these cases litigated against the media. If the court where to narrow this
and tighten the standards of defence for the press to would be a welcome spur towards honesty and accuracy in the media.

<a href="http://www.busines... (Below threshold)
mantis:

This may shed some light.

The Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security spend millions annually to buy commercial databases that track Americans' finances, phone numbers, and biographical information, according to a report last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Often, the agencies and their contractors don't ensure the data's accuracy, the GAO found.

Buying commercially collected data allows the government to dodge certain privacy rules. The Privacy Act of 1974 restricts how federal agencies may use such information and requires disclosure of what the government is doing with it. But the law applies only when the government is doing the data collecting.

It's entirely possible that the telecos are farming out the phone records work to third party companies that then sell it to the feds, allowing the telecos to make such statements.

Keep in mind that Qwest has said they were asked and refused. Verizon claims it was never even asked. Which one has reason to lie?

Or, in simple terms, even t... (Below threshold)
MikeSC:

Or, in simple terms, even though the story fell apart, the left won't let it go.

Like the forged memos.

Isn't the left the "reality-based" group?
-=Mike

Hmmm.The most like... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

The most likely scenario is one where the NSA contracts out to a consulting firm the job of acquiring, maintaining and data mining the telco data. And if the NSA has a specific phone number it wants to check on, then the NSA transmits the phone number to the contractor, who then does a matching search and then returns the applicable data back to the NSA.

This would allow:

1. The NSA to bypass privacy restrictions since the NSA doesn't have access to the raw data itself, only the results of successful matches.

2. The telcos can rightfully claim that they didn't give the data to the NSA. They legally sold it to a private company.

"2. The telcos can rightful... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

"2. The telcos can rightfully claim that they didn't give the data to the NSA. They legally sold it to a private company."

Very possible.

So the next logical question is: WTF are all the Dems/MSM whining about? Info that telemarketers have been getting for years? Why is this a big deal all of a sudden? Oh, yeah, Bush is prez.

Shameless politicking about matters that affect our national security.

Why would anyone trust the Dems with our security...




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