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BellSouth denies giving records to NSA

Telecom company's denial contradicts USA Today report

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BellSouth denied late Monday that it gave phone records to the National Security Agency.

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Despite media reports to the contrary, BellSouth said late Monday it had not participated in any effort by the National Security Agency to collect customer phone records.

"We have provided no customer information whatsoever to the NSA," said BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher.

In a statement released Monday, Atlanta-based BellSouth said it had conducted an internal review after reports surfaced last week that the company and two other telecommunications firms, Verizon and AT&T, had provided information to the NSA.

"Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract [with the NSA] exists, and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA," the statement said.

The newspaper USA Today reported Thursday the companies had provided the NSA with records of billions of domestic phone calls since shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

According to the report, the NSA does not record or listen to the conversations, but uses data about the calls -- numbers, times and locations -- to look for patterns that might suggest terrorist activity. (Full story)

Bush: Privacy 'fiercely protected'

In the wake of the report, President Bush and other administration officials neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a program.

But Bush insisted that NSA intelligence activities are lawful and target only suspected al Qaeda operatives.

"The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," he said Thursday. "The privacy of ordinary Americans is being fiercely protected."

Verizon and AT&T each issued statements saying they could neither confirm nor deny they had given customer records to the NSA.

Both companies insisted, however, that data would have been provided only with safeguards to protect customers' privacy.

According to the USA Today report, Qwest, a Denver, Colorado-based telecommunications company, refused to cooperate with the program.

In March, San Antonio, Texas-based AT&T announced it would acquire BellSouth in a $67 billion deal that will create the nation's biggest phone company.

Calls for hearings

Lawmakers from both parties said the USA Today report raised new questions about the extent of the administration's surveillance efforts.

Some warned it could complicate Bush's nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden, a former NSA director, to replace Porter Goss as head of the CIA.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call phone company executives to testify about their involvement.

Specter has complained the administration has been reluctant to provide details of the previously known surveillance program since its disclosure in December.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters he "strongly" agrees with Bush and said, "We'll discuss whether hearings are necessary." Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said Specter should back off his call for hearings.

"What are people worried about? What is the problem?" asked Lott, a former majority leader. "Are you doing something you're not supposed to?"

Hayden, now deputy national intelligence director, faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee for the CIA post on Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, said Thursday's disclosure presented "a growing impediment" to his nomination.

"I happen to believe we are on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure," said Feinstein, who had expressed no reservations about Hayden earlier this week.

White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration would continue to push Hayden's nomination "full steam ahead."

"All I would want to say is that everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done, and that the appropriate members of Congress, the House and Senate, are briefed on all NSA activities," Hayden said last week.

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