New York Verizon Communications Inc. on Tuesday joined fellow phone company BellSouth in denying key points of a USA Today story that said the companies had provided records of millions of phone calls to the government.
Verizon has not provided customer call data to the National Security Agency, nor had it been asked to do so, the company said in an e-mailed statement. The statement came a day after Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp. made a similar denial.
"One of the most glaring and repeated falsehoods in the media reporting is the assertion that, in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, Verizon was approached by NSA and entered into an arrangement to provide the NSA with data from its customers' domestic calls," the statement read.
The denials leave open the possibility that the NSA directed its requests to long-distance companies, which collect billing data on long-distance calls placed by local-service customers of BellSouth and Verizon.
A story in USA Today last Thursday said Verizon, AT&T Inc. and BellSouth had complied with an NSA request for tens of millions of customer phone records after the 2001 terror attacks. The report sparked a national debate on federal surveillance tactics.
"Sources told us that BellSouth and Verizon records are included in the database," USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson said.
"We're confident in our coverage of the phone database story," Anderson added, "but we won't summarily dismiss BellSouth's and Verizon's denials without taking a closer look."
An attorney for the former chief executive of Qwest Communications International Inc., on Friday lent support to USA Today's story. He said the Denver company had been approached by the government, but had denied the request for phone records because it appeared to violate privacy law.
Qwest is a regional phone company with a substantial long-distance business. It was not clear if the government's request applied only to Qwest's long-distance business.
Verizon's statement suggested that USA Today may have erred in not drawing a distinction between long-distance and local telephone calls.
"Phone companies do not even make records of local calls in most cases because the vast majority of customers are not billed per call for local calls," Verizon said.