(Host) Attorneys for Verizon had little to say to the Vermont Public Service Board today. Verizon says it’s illegal to disclose to the Board whether or not the company provided the federal government with state phone records as part of a national anti-terrorism program. The Douglas Administration disagrees with this analysis and is calling on Verizon to prove that it acted legally in this case.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) The Vermont Public Service Board formally opened its proceedings in a case that could have national implications.
The PSB docket is looking at several questions:
1) Did Verizon turn over thousands of Vermont phone records to the Bush Administration as part of the federal government’s counter terrorism program?
2) If the answer is yes, was this action taken in accordance with federal law?
Seven Verizon customers and Vermont ACLU urged the Board to investigate these allegations.
Verizon has moved to dismiss the case. Attorney Alex Moore says his company isn’t at liberty to discuss this issue in any way:
(Moore) “Verizon is saying that we can’t respond either way because the program that they seem to be concerned about in the ACLU’s letter to the Board is a classified program. In other words, it’s a secret program and that federal law prohibits us from providing any information about that program so we can’t say yes they’re right and we can’t no they’re wrong.”
(Kinzel) Public Service Department attorney Leslie Cadwell says her office is dissatisfied with the company’s response to the allegations:
(Cadwell) “We’re not convinced that they can’t talk about whether they have disclosed records or not. They’ve not made an adequate showing in our view that they can’t demonstrate that they were served with a lawful order to turn over these records. And that’s really where I think the company and the department disagree.”
(Kinzel) Cadwell says the PSD is willing to support Verizon if the company can prove that they acted appropriately under existing federal law – but if Verizon can’t – then Cadwell says the company is in violation of Vermont law:
(Cadwell) “We have no issue with the company complying with lawful requests for information in accordance of a statutory provisions and state laws. But there are allegations that this didn’t take place in this case. And that’s what we’re interested in getting to the bottom of.”
(Kinzel) One of the Verizon customers seeking the investigation is Barry Kade. He’s lived in Montgomery Center for the past 32 years:
(Kade) “I’m old enough to remember when this was a democracy and I like to pretend it still is. And I’m very upset with the notion that the federal government is probably spying on its political enemies using the national security as an excuse. I think we all have the right to communicate with each other in private and that there wouldn’t be any federal or any other form of government intrusion without going to court and getting some kind of search warrant.”
(Kinzel) At their hearing, the Public Service Board established a schedule for this case. Various legal motions need to be filed in the next five weeks and the Board will hold its next formal hearing in the middle of August.
The federal government is actively watching how individual states handle this issue. In New Jersey, the attorney general has issued subpoenas to force five telephone companies to testify about their actions. But federal attorneys have filed a lawsuit to block those subpoenas.
In New Jersey and Vermont, it’s a case that pits a state consumer protection law against the power of the federal government in national security matters.
For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.