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US Phone Company: Turned Over Records to Feds Without Court Order

A published report in Washington says one major U.S. telecommunications company has acknowledged providing intelligence agencies with the telephone records of American citizens without court orders.

The Washington Post reports that Verizon Communications made that acknowledgment in a letter to congressional investigators last week. The newspaper says that in the letter, Verizon acknowledges providing customer information to federal authorities more than 700 times, on an emergency basis, between January 2005 and September 2007.

Two other major telecommunication companies, AT&T and Qwest, have refused to answer questions about whether they provided U.S. intelligence agencies with customer records.

Verizon's letter, as quoted by the Post, says that during the two-year period, it provided records to federal authorities possessing a subpoena or court order 94,000 times. Verizon says the information was used in a range of criminal investigations and counter-terrorism efforts.

Lawmakers are debating an update to the law that regulates surveillance activities within the borders of the United States.

President Bush has demanded that the law include retroactive immunity from liability for telecommunications firms that participated in warrantless surveillance programs.

Opposition Democrats have said they want to know what the companies did before they consider granting immunity.

The domestic surveillance program allows for warrantless eavesdropping on international phone calls and E-mails between people in the United States and suspected terrorists overseas. Some lawmakers say the programming infringes on Americans' privacy by not requiring court approval to monitor communications.