Big phone's ties in Washington could rope Ma Bell into a bit of a controversy. Among the hurdles ahead for AT&T's ( T) $67 billion acquisition of BellSouth ( BLS) are the inevitable antitrust and consumer-protection reviews by the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission. But adding an even stickier dimension to the debate will be concerns that AT&T is getting too big to maintain so-called Net neutrality , and too cozy with the Bush administration's unpopular domestic spying efforts. The debate intensified this week as AT&T proposed a megadeal with BellSouth that would help make the nation's largest telco even bigger. The combined company would control more than 70 million local phone lines, serve 54 million cell-phone customers and operate nearly 10 million broadband Net connections. Attention now turns to Washington, where industry observers and politicians expect to hear what role AT&T -- along with No. 2 Verizon ( VZ) and No. 3 Sprint ( S) -- played in the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance activities. While phone companies regularly work with law enforcement and government agencies on court-approved wiretaps and call traces, the question now is whether the big telcos helped the feds step over the legal line. Privacy watchdogs say they fear that the Bush administration's get-tough-on-security effort has overreached a bit. "There is a balance" between national security and people's privacy -- "it's called the Fourth Amendment," says Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Program at the American Civil Liberties Union. The guidelines are simple, says Steinhardt: "Government has to go to court and get a warrant. And AT&T should be insisting on that court order." Critics say the telcos' cooperation with the executive branch can provide rich rewards like government service contracts and influence over business-deal approvals.