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Commission defers investigation of alleged release of phone records to NSA
Sept. 27, 2006
“Claims that telecommunications companies violated the law or Commission rules raise predicate issues of federal law that must be resolved by federal courts before we can meaningfully conduct an investigation or pursue a complaint,” UTC Chairman Mark Sidran said today during a Commission meeting in Olympia.
The ACLU of Washington requested an investigation after several national news publications reported that telephone companies had unlawfully shared “customer proprietary network information,” or “CPNI,” about millions of phone customers with the National Security Agency (NSA). Such information includes the person called and the time and duration of the call.
The ACLU contends that such activity violates Commission rules prohibiting companies providing wireline service within Washington from releasing such information without consent or a court order.
The ACLU and others have raised similar issues before utility commissions in other states and in federal courts.
The Commission addressed the ACLU’s request at two open meetings since May, and received written and oral testimony from ACLU, the Attorney General’s Office, telephone companies, and more than 200 private citizens.
In a written order issued today, the Commission noted that virtually all efforts by others to obtain information about alleged sharing of records with the NSA have ben blocked by court action.
“There can be no doubt” that a similar action by the UTC would meet a similar end, the Commission said.
It noted that several federal courts are currently considering whether the “state secrets” privilege bars companies from disclosing whether they have provided CPNI to the NSA. Those cases will determine whether it could obtain as part of any investigation the necessary information sufficient to find probable cause of a violation.
“Under these circumstances,” the Commission said, “it makes more sense to await final resolution of these federal legal issues before taking action.”
Meanwhile, to preserve its ability to conduct an investigation, the Commission directed the companies to preserve all pertinent records and the names of all company officials or employees with knowledge of the matter.
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