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Vt. seeks to resume wiretapping probe

Phone companies' alleged role queried

MONTPELIER - The Douglas administration is asking the state's Public Service Board to proceed with its investigation into whether Verizon Vermont and AT&T improperly allowed the federal government to monitor telephones in the name of national security.

In documents filed yesterday, the Public Service Department argued that a July federal court ruling in California cleared the way for the board to investigate whether the telecommunications companies helped the National Security Agency.

"The board should adopt a schedule and proceed with this investigation because sufficient guidance has been delivered from the federal court to allow the parties to seek information from Verizon without running afoul of the state secrets privilege," said the department's filing.

But both Verizon and AT&T asked the board not to reactivate the proceedings.

In its filing, AT&T said that if the board tried to compel the telecommunications company to outline what, if any, relationship it had with the federal government, a federal judge would block the proceedings.

"The net result of any attempt to 'reactivate' the proceedings is nearly certain to be nothing more than further litigation, an injunction, and the imposition of wholly unnecessary costs on parties and the public," said AT&T's filing.

Verizon said the issue had to be decided by a federal court.

The Public Service Board is trying to decide whether to investigate whether the two companies gave the National Security Agency access to Vermont residents' phone records as part of an antiterrorist surveillance program.

The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is also urging the board to move forward, ACLU attorney Richard Saudek said.

"We believe the case has become more urgent since it has become apparent that Vermonters are involved, that Vermonters phones have been tampered with and are apparently being tapped," Saudek said.

He was referring to a number of complaints received by the ACLU, including one by St. Johnsbury attorney Robert Gensburg, who makes frequent calls to Afghanistan as part of his representation of a client at the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Gensburg says he feels his phone is being tapped.

"People who are engaged in activities that the government might want to monitor have told me and the ACLU that they're sure their phones are being tapped," Saudek said.

The state's investigation began last year after it was revealed that the NSA has been collecting records of phone calls, but not the conversations themselves, made by millions of people across the country since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

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