Markey Asks FCC To Probe Phone Flap

Top House Telecommunications Subcommittee Democrat Ed Markey (Mass.) wrote to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Monday asking him to investigate whether telcos Verizon, AT&T, and Bellsouth violated consumer safeguards in the Communications Act by revealing consumer records--phone logs--as part of a National Security Agency effort to track terrorists.

The administration has defended the practice, saying no call content was monitored and that the process was legal and that the database of millions of calls was "narrowly defined."

Markey, who never saw a phrase he didn't love to turn, countered that "it appears this electronic driftnet over our homes is only 'narrowly described.'" He quoted the following from the act: "'In General - Every telecommunications carrier has a duty to protect the confidentiality of proprietary information of, and relating to, other telecommunications carriers, equipment manufacturers, and customers, including telecommunications carriers reselling telecommunications services provided by a telecommunications carrier.'"

Verizon, for one, has said that it does not allow the government to fish for info among its customer records.

The company said in a statement that it "will provide customer information to a government agency only where authorized by law for appropriately-defined and focused purposes. When information is provided, Verizon seeks to ensure it is properly used for that purpose and is subject to appropriate safeguards against improper use.  Verizon does not, and will not, provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition."

Markey last week sent a letter to Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) asking the committee to hold hearings on the NSA program and telcos' participation, but has yet to hear anything back, according to Markey's office.

In his letter to Martin, Markey asked him to reply by May 22 with how the commission plans to respond to "apparent breaches of the customer privacy provisions of the Communications Act," or to explain why it does not think the program violates the law."

FCc spokesman David Fiske confirmed the commission had received the letter. "We are reviewing it carefully and will respond accordingly," he said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.