BellSouth: We Didn't Give NSA Customers' Call Records

BellSouth Corp. said Monday its "thorough review" found no indication it gave telephone records to the National Security Agency as part of a federal anti-terrorism surveillance program.

A report last week by USA Today identified BellSouth, along with AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., as companies that had complied with an NSA request to turn over millions of customer phone records after the 2001 terror attacks.

"Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA," the Atlanta-based regional Bell said in a statement.

BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher said the company's investigation found "no contract with the NSA and we are confident that we have turned over no phone records." Last week, Battcher said the company had "not provided any information we would need a subpoena for." On Monday night, Battcher said "we cannot find anyone within BellSouth who has ever been approached by the NSA."

The USA Today report, which quoted anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the program, followed earlier revelations of wiretapping on overseas calls without a court order and sparked a renewed national debate over government intrusion into Americans' civil liberties in the fight against terrorism.

Critics denounced the phone companies for complying with the NSA surveillance request, while others approved of compromising privacy for national security.

A USA Today spokeswoman and the paper's editor did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Another of the regional Bells, Denver-based Qwest Communications International Inc., did not comply with the federal request for call logs.

Spokesmen for AT&T and Verizon said Monday night they had no comment on BellSouth's statement. Verizon spokesman Bob Varettoni referred to a company statement Friday that said Verizon doesn't "provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition."

Last week, Verizon said it had complied with relevant laws and was "committed" to customer privacy. San Antonio-based AT&T said it respects customers' privacy but has "an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare."

Battcher said BellSouth's customer service department had received little more than two dozen complaints about reports that private phone records may have been relayed to the government.

"We have 20 million land line customers, so 26 complaints is not a lot," Battcher said.