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JUDGE UPHOLDS MPUC IN SURVEILLANCE CASE
Rules against NSA in two of three grounds
July 24, 2007
The Maine PUC won an important victory today in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, which affirmed the Commission’s authority to investigate allegedly illegal surveillance of Maine citizens.
Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker denied a federal government motion that could have shut down Commission efforts to verify that Mainers’ privacy has not been illegally violated by Verizon, the state’s largest telephone company.
“This is a win for the state’s authority in this case,” said MPUC Chairman Kurt Adams. “Justice Walker found that the MPUC was acting within its jurisdiction and that regulated utilities are subject to PUC oversight when it comes to surveillance. It also found that Congress has not pre-empted the PUC’s interest in protecting citizens’ privacy.”
The PUC wants Verizon to affirm under oath that it did not cooperate with any attempts by the National Security Agency to get unfettered access to private records of Maine telephone customers. The federal government has challenged that effort, but today’s decision bolsters the PUC’s position.
“The only remaining issue in the case involves whether the MPUC’s investigation would disclose state secrets,” Adams said. “We have always believed that that’s a matter properly decided in federal court, and we welcome a final answer on that point soon.”
The MPUC is still reviewing Judge Walker’s decision. But the Maine Attorney General’s office has advised the Commission that it would not recommend continuing with a proceeding in the Verizon matter at this time, pending further review of the state secrets question. That issue is under consideration in separate case before the 9th District Court.
Today’s decision concerns a federal challenge to efforts by several state agencies around the country to gain information about potential NSA surveillance activities and utility cooperation. It can be found at http://www.cand.uscourts.gov/
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