Is the Phone Company Violating
The Wall Street Journal
Friday, May 13, 2006
THE MAIN EVENT
Cooperation between U.S.
telecom firms and the National Security Agency in the war on
terror raised a firestorm on Capitol Hill this week.
* * *
ON THURSDAY, USA
Today reported that three telecom companies --
Verizon Communications Inc. and
BellSouth Corp. -- have been providing the spy agency with
records of billions of phone calls made by U.S. citizens inside
Qwest Communications International Inc. is the only one of
the major landline phone companies that refused to cooperate.
The news comes just months after the Bush administration
acknowledged reports that it had allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on
Americans communicating with people overseas without first
obtaining a warrant. It feeds worries among privacy activists
that the administration is engaged in broad-scale domestic "data
mining" activities. Mr. Bush has neither confirmed nor denied
that such a program exists, but Thursday said "the intelligence
activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to
appropriate members of Congress."
Michael Hayden -- Mr. Bush's nominee for the director of the
Central Intelligence Agency -- also says that all programs
conducted by the NSA are legal.
Here's a closer look:
What the companies did:
The three phone companies have been handing over phone numbers
and calling information since shortly after September 11, 2001,
while withholding names, addresses or other personal customer
data, according to media reports. But it would be easy for the
NSA to obtain that information by cross-checking the data with
other readily available databases. The companies didn't provide
any information about the contents of the calls.
In an overnight survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans say they
thought it was acceptable for the NSA to collect phone records.
But Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) said that the three phone
companies will likely be called before the Senate Judiciary
Committee to testify about their role.
Why didn't Qwest participate?
Joseph Nacchio, the former chief executive of Qwest who is now
facing insider-trading charges, was approached by the NSA in the
fall of 2001 and asked to provide access to the private phone
records of Qwest customers. Mr. Nacchio put out a statement that
said he declined to provide access when he learned that no
"warrant or other legal processes have been secured in support
of the request."
Why is this a problem for
Michael Hayden? Mr. Hayden, head of the NSA from
March 1999 until April 2005, was an architect of both the
program to listen in on certain calls without warrants and the
program to gather phone records. He is now Mr. Bush's nominee to
head the CIA, and is clearly going to come under attack from
some members of Congress during his confirmation hearings.
Mr. Hayden defends the NSA programs as necessary to "preserve
the security and the liberty of the American people." He hasn't
commented specifically on the program involving phone records.
Is this legal? The
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group that works on
protecting privacy, contends the phone companies cannot give
customer data to the federal government without a warrant. They
point to the Pen Register Statute that requires a court order
for the government to capture call-detail information such as
the caller, recipient, length of call and the date of the call.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution also protects Americans
rights to privacy.
It is not clear their arguments will stand up in court. The
president and the companies insist everything they did is legal.
During the earlier controversy surrounding the secret wiretaps,
the administration argued that Article II of the Constitution
gives the president inherent authority to use wiretaps to fight
the war on terror, and that Congress authorized the government
to "use all necessary and appropriate force" to fight the war on
POINTS OF VIEW
"The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without
court approval. We're not mining or trolling through the
personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."
--President George W. Bush
"Everything that the agency has done has been lawful. It's been
briefed to the appropriate members of Congress. The only purpose
of the agency's activities is to preserve the security and the
liberty of the American people."
--Michael Hayden, CIA Director Nominee
"Compiling a data-base of the phone calls of millions of
Americans is not likely to find actual terrorists, but is a
dangerous threat to the privacy and associational rights of
--Kate Martin, director, Center for National Security Studies
"Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are
involved with al-Qaeda?"
--Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.)
Of Americans' total annual expenditures, about 2% goes to paying
phone bills. The average
local phone bill is about $37. The average
long-distance phone bill is around $10. The average wireless
bill is about $41.
Payphones are a dying breed in the U.S.
In 2004, there were about 1.3
million payphones nationwide, down from 2.1 million in 1997.
Payphones collected about $1 billion in revenue in 2004, down
from about $2.1 billion in 1997.
The number of employees in
the wired telecom industry is on the decline in the
U.S. There are currently about 548,000 employees, down from
about 672,000 in 1990.
There are at least four
million miles of phone lines running underground in
the U.S. In comparison, there are about 2.4 million miles of
The number of telephone calls made on land lines has decreased,
as mobile phone use has increased.
In 2004, Americans made about
375 billion local phone calls on landlines, down from
about 419 billion in 2003.
The number of cellphone
subscribers has increased to 208 million in the U.S., up from
340,000 in 1985. The average length of a cellphone
call is about three minutes. There are currently about 184,000
cell sites in the U.S., up from about 913 in 1985.
BY THE NUMBERS