Nacchio for "no" to NSA
By Al Lewis, Staff Columnist
Friday, May 12, 2006
It pains me to say this, but perhaps no telecommunications
executive has done more to protect American civil liberties
than Joe Nacchio -- an argument that bodes well for the
former Qwest CEO in his upcoming trial on insider-trading
Nacchio just said "no" when the U.S. National Security
Agency demanded phone records of Qwest customers after the
Sept. 11 attacks. Executives at AT&T Inc., BellSouth Corp.
and Verizon Communications Inc. did not have any such
concern for customers' privacy.
"We've got to give Qwest some credit for this," said Qwest
customer Al Kemp, 57, of Arvada. "They actually did the
right thing for a change. ... I don't like Nacchio very
much, but apparently he's the one who made this decision."
Nacchio reportedly stood against a trend that has members of
Congress promising to call AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon
executives into hearings.
If you are a customer of one of these companies, a list of
calls you've made over the years is now in a computer
database run by government spies, according to a report in
Thursday's USA Today.
The Bush administration says it's all to catch al-Qaeda, but
where are the checks and balances to assure this data isn't
misused in the future?
Steve Posner is an Evergreen lawyer and the author of a
legal treatise, "Privacy Law and the USA Patriot Act." He
contends the government collected this data from phone
companies without a required court order.
"If they got the information without rules, where are the
rules for how it is treated?" he asked. "Can it be sold?
Can it be distributed? ... It's conceivable this
information can be used by people who are not well-disposed
Good thing there are guys like Nacchio looking out for us.
His successor as CEO at Qwest, Dick Notebaert, also
reportedly shut the door on the NSA.
Nacchio, however, may not have exactly acted out of civic
altruism, said Posner. It's not clear whether the companies
that provided the information to the NSA are exempt from
civil lawsuits. Perhaps Qwest's legal team realized this
and pushed Nacchio to say no to the NSA.
"He may have just been trying to cover his company's
(tail)," said Posner.
But Nacchio also was chairman of the National Security
Telecommunications Advisory Committee until he was ousted
from Qwest in June 2002.
In Nacchio's court motions, he has indicated that he will
cite his role in this capacity as part of his defense.
Nacchio's attorneys have had to get security clearances to
even discuss these matters with him, according to court
motions. And they have to meet in what is called a
"Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility", available to
them only in Washington, D.C., and Denver. In these rooms,
all faxes, computer keystrokes and telephone and fax
transmissions are secured and isolated.
Nacchio's attorneys have argued that they need more time to
prepare their case because they have to fly from New Jersey
to either Washington or Denver to get access to these rooms.
"Tasks, which normally take hours, now require travel and
instead take days, if not weeks," they wrote.
I can picture Nacchio picking up his shoe-phone like a
modern-day Maxwell Smart. I think more of Nacchio for
telling the NSA to take a hike. But this doesn't cinch his
defense against 42 counts of illegal insider trading.
Perhaps news of his stand against the NSA may improve
perceptions among the jury pool. Perhaps he also can argue
that the insider-trading case against him is an example of
But Qwest's $2.5 billion accounting restatement after
Nacchio's tenure was not the government's doing. Nor did
the government tell Nacchio to brag about Qwest's prospects
as he dumped his stock. The relevant question for a jury is
whether Nacchio made these trades using knowledge that only
Qwest insiders would have.
Apparently, Nacchio knew that the NSA was not happy with
him. But it's not clear what bearing that information will
have at his trial, which has not been scheduled. One thing
is clear: Nacchio did something a lot of other
telecommunications executives should have done too.
Al Lewis' column appears
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