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Markey criticizes FCC chair for refusing to open investigation on NSA/phone records case
A Massachusetts Congressmember today denounced the Federal Communications Commission for "taking a pass" on investigating reports that the nation's top telephone companies handed over consumer phone data records to the National Security Agency (NSA).
"If the oversight body that monitors our nation’s communications is stepping aside then Congress must step in," Representative Edward Markey, a Democrat, declared on his Web site.
Last week Markey sent a letter to FCC Chair Kevin Martin, a Republican, asking the agency to follow up on USA Today's May 11th story that AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon have disclosed millions of consumer records to the NSA. On May 15th, Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, also called for an FCC investigation. Since then all three companies have denied the charges.
On Monday, Martin sent Markey a letter explaining that the FCC could not comply with the request. He cited warnings by White House Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and NSA Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander that disclosing information about the alleged relationship between AT&T and the NSA could hurt national security.
These statements, Martin told Markey, "make clear that it would not be possible for us to investigate the activities in your letter without examining highly sensitive classified information. The Commission has no power to order the production of classified information."
Markey accuses the FCC of ducking the issue. "If the FCC initiates an investigation and gets blocked by the White House, then the White House is stonewalling," he said today. "But if the FCC refuses to even demand answers, then the White House never has to block the enforcement agency from getting to the bottom of this. The American people deserve answers.”
Alexander and Negroponte's comments came in response to a lawsuit filed on January 31st by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against AT&T. The suit charges that the company has violated the law by working with the NSA's controversial warrantless wiretapping program.
Today the Federal District Court in San Francisco held an open court hearing on the case. According to the EFF's Web site, the court started a process that could open to public inspection some classified documents related to the controversy.
On May 11th, the day of the USA Today report, Markey and all Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to committee Chair Joe Barton of Texas, a Republican, asking for committee hearings on the alleged data disclosures. John Smith, a staff member at Barton's office, told LL-FCC today that Barton has "nothing planned on the matter."