Public Service Board will investigate whether phone records were disclosed

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(Host) Vermont utility regulators say two telecommunications companies need to answer questions about whether they released customer records to the federal government.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, the Vermont Public Service Board has revived its inquiry despite continued opposition from the Bush administration.

(Sneyd) This issue grew out of disclosures that the government was tapping certain phone calls without getting a court order.

Vermont and four other states wanted to know the extent of that wiretapping – and whether it violated state consumer privacy laws.

They held off, though, when the federal government sued, claiming the states were jeopardizing national security by asking questions of the companies.

A federal judge has pretty much sided with the states, even though the Justice Department is still pursuing the lawsuit.

So Vermont’s Public Service Board says it’s time to start asking questions of Verizon and AT&T again.

It set a schedule for the companies to respond to demands for information.

Richard Saudek is an attorney representing the American Civil Liberties Union. He welcomed the order and says it demonstrates a concern for Vermont consumers.

(Saudek) “I think the Public Service Board should be commended. Because what they’re doing is they’re taking the decisions of the judge in San Francisco and they’re reopening their case rather than simply sitting on the sidelines and saying, `We’ve been sued. Let’s see how it comes out in the final, final appeal.”’

(Sneyd) The board acknowledges that the Justice Department is likely to continue fighting any state’s efforts to get information from companies like Verizon and AT&T.

But it says that’s no reason not to ask the questions.

A Justice Department spokesman says the government is reviewing the order and can’t comment further on whether it’ll seek an injunction against Vermont.

That’s the word from Verizon, too.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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