Martin: FCC Can't Probe Phone Flap

Invoking the "classified nature" of the National Secutiry Agency activities regarding phone records, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says the FCC does not have the power to investigate alleged violations of consumer privacy by several phone companies.

In a letter to ranking House Telecommunications Subcommittee member Ed markey (D-Mass.), who had called for the FCC investigation, Martin said:

"I know that all of the members of this commission take very seriously out charge to faithfully implement the nation's laws, including our authority to investigate potential violations of the Communications Act [which requires telecommunications carriers to protect customer confidentiality]. In this case, however, the classified nature of the NSA's activities makes us unable to investigate the alleged violations..."

Martin points out that the commission is not empowered to order the production of classified information, which the government has declared it to be.

Markey did not like the answer, saying if the FCC wouldn't investigate, Congress should.

"The FCC, which oversees the protection of consumer privacy under the Communications Act of 1934, has taken a pass at investigating what is estimated to be the nation's largest violation of consumer privacy ever to occur. If the oversight body that monitors our nation's communications is stepping aside then Congress must step in."

Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said Tuesday that he had asked last week for an inquiry into the phone flap. "I don't want to know what's going on in all the world of high intelligence and all that," he said, "but insofar as telecommunications are impacted and the statue we're sworn to implement is impacted, I think there needs to be some knowledge of what has happened in that particular sphere."

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.