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AG Rowe Urges Maine’s Senators to Reject FISA Amendment
January 22, 2008
Today, Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe called upon Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to reject any amendment to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would hamper the Maine Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) ability to protect the privacy rights of telephone subscribers in Maine. This week, the United States Senate is expected to take up amendments to FISA, including provisions that would give amnesty to telephone companies that may have illegally turned over their customers’ records to the National Security Agency (NSA). Such amnesty would not only prevent numerous pending lawsuits against the telephone companies from going forward, but also could stop state regulatory agencies, including Maine’s PUC, from even questioning the companies as to whether any disclosure of confidential customer records was in compliance with state law.
Rowe stated, “Any amendments that shut down independent state inquiries are particularly disturbing, especially in light of the fact that twenty-two Maine residents have filed a complaint asking the PUC to investigate whether Verizon unlawfully disclosed records of its Maine customers.” Rowe continued, “In Maine, telephone subscribers have a right to privacy, and their records should not be turned over unless the proper legal procedures have been followed. The PUC is certainly entitled to investigate whether telephone companies have violated the privacy rights of their customers, and I urge our Senators to reject any FISA amendment that would interfere with the PUC’s ability to conduct such investigations.”
In October 2007, Rowe and the Attorneys General of Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey, along with a Commissioner of the Missouri Public Service Commission, submitted a joint statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging the Committee to reject any amendment to FISA that would interfere with the states’ ability to investigate whether telephone companies unlawfully disclosed their customers’ records. A copy of that statement is attached.
On May 8, 2006, twenty-two Maine residents filed a complaint with the PUC asking it to investigate whether Verizon unlawfully provided the NSA with confidential customer records. Three months later, the United States Department of Justice sued the PUC in federal court seeking an order barring the PUC from conducting any investigation. The DOJ filed similar lawsuits against regulatory agencies in Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Missouri. The cases were transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, where they were assigned to Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker. On July 24, 2007, Chief Judge Walker rejected the DOJ’s argument that federal law preempts state regulatory agencies from investigating whether telephone companies unlawfully disclosed customers’ records. Judge Walker deferred ruling on the DOJ’s other argument, that the so-called “state secrets privilege” bars the investigations, pending a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a related case. The Ninth Circuit’s decision may provide some clarification regarding application of the state secrets privilege. The Ninth Circuit heard oral argument on August 15, 2007, but it has not yet issued a decision.
NEWS RELEASE January 22, 2008 David Loughran, (207) 626-8577
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