ACLU Calls For Utilities Investigation

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado is calling for the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to investigate whether or not telephone companies gave private information to the National Security Association (NSA).

Earlier today, the group and supporters submitted approximately 1,800 petition signatures calling for the inquiry.

“The ACLU is here today because we want to know whether or not Colorado telephone companies have turned over our private phone records to the National Security Agency, and if so, if this is against the law or a violation of telecommunications privacy policies,” said Rachel Chaparro, a Coordinator with the organization.

According to Chaparro, the ACLU sent its first letter to the PUC last May, when it was reported that the NSA had been compiling a large database of personal phone conversations and listening to them. Earlier this month, the NSA spying was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.


Supporters outside, before PUC meeting.

Approximately thirty people gathered in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood this morning, in an effort to comment during a PUC meeting and submit the petition papers. The ACLU says that the signatures were collected mostly on-line, although some were taken by volunteers.

“The [PUC] has the power to subpoena…they have subpoena power, they can also invoke their authority to ask the Attorney General to start investigations,” Taylor Pendergrass, an ACLU staff attorney, said.

In Maine, the state’s PUC is being sued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for asking that a local telephone company say whether or not it participated in the database program, even though the PUC never opened an official investigation.  The DOJ is also suing the New Jersey Attorney General and the Missouri PUC for subpoenaing telephone companies, which is similar to what the ACLU is calling for.

In Colorado, the PUC consists of three county commissioners picked by the Governor. Gregory E. Sopkin, appointed by Governor Owens, is currently the chairman.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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