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Judge Andrew Napolitano: Phone Companies' Fancy Lawyers May Be Parsing Their Words When They Deny Culpability

Reported by Marie Therese - May 18, 2006

Yesterday [5-16-06] on FOX & Friends Judge Andrew Napolitano, FNC's resident legal scholar, made some tantalizing comments about Bell South's claim that it did not give the government any phone records. The Judge speculated that perhaps the "fancy" corporate lawyers were "parsing"* words, i.e., all the words are correct but didn't convey the full story.

JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO: You know, there seems to be a lot of confusion about this, because, for example, Bell South said "Nobody ever came to us and, if they did, we wouldn't give them this information unless they had a - had a warrant." And Verizon said the same thing and AT&T is remaining silent ..."

KIRAN CHETRY: Right.

NAPOLITANO: ... and Qwest said "We told the government to go take a hike." Here's what the President said about this yesterday.

VIDEO CLIP of President George Bush, 5-15-06: "I've also been clear about the fact that we do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval and that this government will continue to guard - guard the privacy of the American people."

(Note: President Bush was not speaking about the recent NSA data mining scandal in this speech. He was referring to the Echelon wiretapping program, established in the year 2000, which is also under scrutiny by the Congress. Echelon is an eavesdropping program.)

KIRAN CHETRY: So there are a lot of questions and, Judge, you can speak to this as well, I think there is some confusion over the wiretapping controversy ...

NAPOLITANO: Right.

CHETRY: ... versus the collection of merely numbers, meaning not phone calls, but numbers of where people dialed and I think there was a lot of confusion about those two things plus the denials on the part of Verizon and Bell South leave a little bit of wiggle room, if you know what I mean.

NAPOLITANO: Yeah. You know, the denials may be carefully parsed words because the denials are things like "We didn't give the government any information." Well, here's how this works ...

STEVE DOOCY: Well, that sounds pretty adamant, doesn't it?

NAPOLITANO: Well, the telephone companies don't give over your - the Doocy household - bill. They give the government a code and the government can download ....

DOOCY: Just sucks it right up.

NAPOLITANO: Exactly! And the government can download the information it wants. So these fancy lawyers from the major telephone carriers may be parsing words. We don't really know what the NSA is gathering, but we do know that General Hayden will be speaking to the House and Senate Intelligence Committee - the Senate Intelligence Committee in public tomorrow [5-17-06], in private today, trying to explain to them in private exactly what the NSA is doing.

DOOCY: Um-hmm.

CHETRY: Right. Plus the phone companies don't want to come near that $200 billion lawsuit that might be coming their way.

NAPOLITANO: That's right. That is a class action, filed by two lawyers in Princeton, New Jersey, against all the major phone companies seeking - Kiran's right - $200 billion in damages in behalf of everybody whose phone records have been - as Steve would say - "sucked in" by the government.

COMMENT

As someone who, unfortunately, has been paying both Verizon and AT&T, I hope the "fancy" New Jersey lawyers win their case.

In the meantime, as I informed both companies, I'm looking for new providers for my cell phone and internet connection.

However, this time, before I sign any contracts, I want it in writing that my records won't be given out without a warrant and/or my express written permission.

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