Verizon Denies Privacy Lapse

Telcos rush to contain the public relations damage.
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Verizon (VZ) - Get Report denied for a second time that it provided the National Security Agency with data from customers' domestic calls.

The news comes as the big telco, along with peers

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

and

BellSouth

(BLS)

, has come under fire for reportedly sharing customer data with government agencies seeking to track supposed would-be terrorists.

The furor started when

USA Today

reported last week that the National Security Agency was secretly collecting phone records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.

BellSouth denied Monday it provided bulk calling data to the government. "Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA," BellSouth said. "As a result of media reports that BellSouth provided massive amounts of customer calling information under a contract with the NSA, the company conducted an internal review to determine the facts."

For its part, Verizon said last Friday it "does not, and will not, provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition."

But on Tuesday, the speculation apparently prompted Verizon to go further.

"Again, Verizon cannot and will not confirm or deny whether it has any relationship to the classified NSA program," the company said in a Tuesday afternoon press release. "Verizon always stands ready, however, to help protect the country from terrorist attack. We owe this duty to our fellow citizens. We also have a duty, that we have always fulfilled, to protect the privacy of our customers. The two are not in conflict. When asked for help, we will always make sure that any assistance is authorized by law and that our customers' privacy is safeguarded."

Earlier,

Dow Jones

reported that AT&T and BellSouth joined Verizon and the government as defendants in a big privacy lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks $1,000 per violation of federal telecommunications laws, or about $200 billion based on 200 million customers among the three telecommunications companies,

Dow Jones

reports.