NEW YORK – Verizon Communications Inc. denied Tuesday that it had received a request for customer phone records from the National Security Agency, bringing into question key points of a USA Today story.
"Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records," the New York-based phone company said in an e-mailed statement.
The statement came a day after BellSouth Corp. also said the NSA had never requested customer call data, nor had the company provided any.
A story in USA Today last Thursday said Verizon, AT&T Inc. and BellSouth had complied with an NSA request for tens of millions of customer phone records after the 2001 terror attacks. The report sparked a national debate on federal surveillance tactics.
The newspaper story cited anonymous sources "with direct knowledge of the arrangement."
"Sources told us that BellSouth and Verizon records are included in the database," USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson said Tuesday.
"We're confident in our coverage of the phone database story," Anderson added, "but we won't summarily dismiss BellSouth's and Verizon's denials without taking a closer look."
USA Today said in a follow-up story Tuesday that BellSouth did not challenge the initial report when given details about it before publication. But BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher said he never agreed to the reporter's allegations when presented with them.
Verizon also said USA Today erred in not drawing a distinction between long-distance and local telephone calls.
"Phone companies do not even make records of local calls in most cases because the vast majority of customers are not billed per call for local calls," Verizon's statement said.
Three smaller phone companies, with mainly local business, contacted by The Associated Press on Tuesday also denied being approached by the NSA. Representatives at Alltel Corp., Citizens Communications Co. and CenturyTel Inc. all said they had no knowledge of NSA requests to their companies.
Verizon's statement Tuesday apparently did not apply to MCI, which Verizon acquired in January. In an earlier statement, Verizon said it is in the process of ensuring that its policies are put in place in the former MCI business.
MCI had a long-distance consumer business, but its main source of revenue was corporate clients.
An attorney for the former chief executive of Qwest Communications International Inc., another regional phone company, said Friday that the company had been approached by the government, but denied the request for phone records because it appeared to violate privacy law.
The denials by Verizon and BellSouth leaves AT&T as the sole company named in the USA Today article that hasn't denied involvement. On Thursday, San Antonio-based AT&T said it had "an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies responsible for protecting the public welfare," but said would only assist as allowed within the law.
AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said Tuesday the company had no further comment.
BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T are facing a number of lawsuits by customers who allege violations of their privacy. On Monday, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission said the FCC whether the companies are violating federal communications law.