[JURIST] The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] will not investigate allegations made last year that several large telephone companies handed over customer phone records to the government as part of the domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), according to a letter [PDF text; press release] from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. In the letter sent Friday to Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), chairman of the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, Martin declined to investigate, asserting national security concerns raised by National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell that "such an investigation would pose an unnecessary risk of damage to the national security." Markey, who had urged an investigation into the allegations, responded that:
[I]t is well within the authority of the independent agency responsible for the enforcement of our nation's communications privacy laws to investigate the very serious reports that the intelligence agencies were using telephone companies to obtain phone records and Internet data on citizens without proper, prior authorization. I believe the [FCC] could conduct its own examination of such reports in a way that safeguards national security.Reuters has more.
Last year, USA Today reported that the NSA had been collecting phone records from major telephone companies AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth [corporate websites] to study the calling patterns of millions of Americans in an effort to detect terrorist activity. Markey had initially requested an investigation by the FCC last May, but Martin declined [JURIST report], contending that the FCC could not perform an effective investigation because it did not have access to classified government documents. In 2006, Verizon and BellSouth denied involvement [JURIST report] in the program. McConnell acknowledged in August that telecommunications companies cooperated with the surveillance program [JURIST report], though he did not name specific companies involved.