BellSouth Denies NSA Contract

The phone company says it did not send customer call data to the government.

A BellSouth spokesperson has denied reports that the company had agreed to turn over phone call records to the National Security Agency.

"We have no contract with the NSA and we have not turned over any customer information to the NSA," said Jeff Battcher, BellSouths vice president of corporate communications, in an interview with eWEEK on May 16.

Battcher said that Atltanta-based BellSouth spent several days investigating reports in USA Today that the company had agreed to turn over virtually all its customer calling data to the NSA, the governments signals intelligence organization in Fort Meade, Md.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about the NSAs secret collection of phone call records.

"BellSouth is a large corporation. [We] have over 65000 employees, we operate in 9 states," Battcher said, explaining the delay in making the announcement, "we wanted to make sure that somewhere, sometime, this didnt happen. Were confident that this did not happen."

Battcher told eWEEK that BellSouth gets requests from various governments at a variety of levels for call data, wiretaps, or other information. "Weve got a well-established policy," Battcher said. "We get subpoenas and requests for information every day from sheriffs organizations and the FBI."

He said that without a court order or other official request where appropriate, BellSouth simply will not agree to provide any such information. "We do get court orders for customer records and wiretaps, and we know how to handle those," Battcher said.

Battcher said that the same policies apply to the NSA as they do to any government agency. But he also said that no such request, with or without a court order, was ever made. "We have not had any contact with the NSA, period," Battcher said. "Theres certainly not been any massive turnover to any government agency."

"From our review we can find no evidence that anyone at NSA has contacted anyone at BellSouth. From a BellSouth perspective, [the suggestion] that we had a contract with the NSA is simply not true. That we had turned over massive amount of data to the NSA is simply incorrect," Battcher said, saying that he wanted to be as clear as possible in denying any arrangement of any kind with the NSA and the allegations put forth by USA Today in last weeks story.

Battcher did note that his company owns 40 percent of wireless carrier Cingular, but he said, "I dont want to speak for Cingular."

To date, the NSA has not responded to the allegations made in the USA Today article that claimed that the largest U.S. phone companies, AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, had agreed to provide virtually all their customer calling data to the agency.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...