May 18, 2006 2:33PM

TechLawJournal Parses Phone Company Denials

TechLawJournal has carefully parsed the statements issued by Verizon and BellSouth denying participation in the NSA spying program. I'll quote TLJ liberally here, with permission.

Regarding the BellSouth statement, TLJ notes that it took three working days and two weekend days to prepare a three paragraph response. As to the substance:

BellSouth uses the phrases "customer calling information" and "customer calling records". In contrast, the USA Today article uses the phrases "phone call records" and "domestic call records". BellSouth associates the word "customer" with the word "record". There is a difference between what USA Today wrote, and what BellSouth now denies.

BellSouth portrays the USA Today article as asserting that BellSouth provided customer identifying information combined with the customer's call information. In fact, the USA Today article only asserts that BellSouth turned over call information. Moreover, the USA Today article points out the difference. It states that "Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program". The article added that "But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information."

Thus, the BellSouth statement denies something that USA Today did not assert, and leaves undenied that which USA Today did actually assert.

Of course, it is another question whether BellSouth, in writing its statement, understood there to be a difference between "customer calling records" and "phone call records", and intended its statement to constitute a non-denial.

On Verizon's May 16 statement:

Verizon's six paragraph statement is longer than BellSouth's, but employs the same approach. It restates the assertions of USA Today, with variations, and then denies its restatements.

Verizon uses the phrases "customers' domestic calls", "customer phone records", and "customer records or call data". Like BellSouth, it adds the word "customer".  USA Today wrote about "phone call records", without the word "customer".

Verizon does at one point deny that it provided "any call data", but it then immediately follows this with the phrase "from those records", which is a reference back to "customer phone records". This leaves open the possibility that it provided "call data" that it retrieved from a database other that "customer phone records".

This is helpful insight from a dogged, independent reporter.  And subscription rates are not too expensive either.

(Cross-posted from TechLiberationFront