(Host) The federal government wants state regulators to drop their investigation into an alleged domestic surveillance program
Governor Jim Douglas says the public’s right to privacy must be protected. He says the investigation into whether phone records were improperly used by the government should continue despite the federal opposition.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) Utility regulators in Vermont and several other states want to know whether telecommunications companies have secretly collected the phone records of millions of Americans.
The Public Service Board invited the federal government to participate. But late last month a federal official told the state regulators that the government would not cooperate.
An U.S. Assistant Attorney General said that the phone companies cannot confirm or deny the existence of the surveillance program without harming national security.
The official wrote “There can be no question that the requests for information at issue here interfere with and seek the disclosure of information regarding foreign intelligence gathering.”
But Governor Jim Douglas says the investigation should go ahead.
(Douglas) “I feel very strongly about the privacy rights of the people of Vermont. We don’t want Big Brother knowing about every telephone call that we make. There are consumer protection laws in our state statutes that have to be respected totally apart from the federal law that has been the matter of some discussion.”
(Dillon) Verizon, the region’s dominant phone company, has also asked the Public Service Board to dismiss the case.
Richard Saudek is a Montpelier lawyer working with the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He says the questions raised by the case are troubling.
(Saudek) “I don’t think that any users of telephone service thought that their calls would be turned over to the government. Nobody in their wildest dreams would have thought that before they started reading about it in the newspapers. There is something extremely disquieting about just that fact.”
(Dillon) A Verizon spokeswoman would not comment beyond what’s contained in motions filed with the board.
In those documents, Verizon says it can’t provide any information about the classified National Security Agency monitoring program. However, the company said it did not turn over data on local calls to the NSA.
The Public Service Board is expected to rule by the end of the month on Verizon’s motion to dismiss by the case.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.