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Senate Won't Ask Phone Companies About Illegal Spying
Beta News
Nate Mook
June 7, 2006

The United States Senate is backing away from plans to ask the heads of major telecommunications companies to testify about the National Security Agency's domestic spying program. Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T were accused in a USA Today report last month of sharing customer data with the NSA.

The story claimed that the NSA was collecting phone records of millions of calls made within the United States in order to help the Bush administration's war on terror. President Bush previously asserted that the spying only involved calls made to international destinations.

However, BellSouth and Verizon both denied partaking in such a program, although declined to specify what relationship, if any, the companies had with the NSA. AT&T only said publicly that any action it may have taken was well within legal limits.

Still, the Senate Judiciary Committee pushed for a federal investigation into the legality of the program, saying it may have broken communications laws which protect the privacy of American's phone call records unless the customer approves their release.

Now it seems such a probe will not take place. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican, said he agreed to drop the effort to call on company executives after Vice President Dick Cheney said they could not answer questions about disclosing call records due to national security reasons.

"If I thought I could have done better today by pushing the telephone companies, I would have," Specter told reporters on Tuesday. Democrats were unhappy with the decision, claiming Specter had given up too easily.

Explaining why his committee backed off the inquiry, Specter said that Cheney agreed to support a bill that would have the domestic surveillance program reviewed by a court set up under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. However, Specter acknowledged that he has no guarantee the bill will be pushed through by the Bush Administration.

The American Civil Liberties Union also spoke on the matter Tuesday, asking the Federal Communications Commission to look into the validity of the USA Today report. However, the FCC reiterated that it cannot obtain classified material which would be needed to investigate the claims.

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