Judge: Verizon won't appear before state PUC

PUC wanted Verizon to appear to explain cooperation with NSA but judge says that would endanger 'national security.'
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor
The Maine Public Utilities Commission intended to have Verizon appear before it and explain whether it was cooperating with the National Security Administration, but a federal judge Thursday blocked the hearing based on "potential risk" to national security, The Bangor Daily News reports.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock’s strongly worded 24-page ruling was issued after a 90-minute hearing Thursday morning.

In it, he enjoined the PUC from holding the hearing and Verizon from responding to any subpoenas the commission has or might issue. "It is painfully obvious that, in making assessments about the impact of its order on national security, the PUC is acting beyond its depth," Woodcock wrote.

"The PUC’s statutory area of responsibility and expertise is to regulate public utilities, it is not charged with evaluating threats to national security, investigating the NSA, or holding businesses in contempt when their silence was mandated by the federal government.

"When confronted with a divergence of opinion as to the national security implications of the PUC order, as between the NSA, which is charged with ensuring national security, and the PUC, which is charged with state utility regulation, the court would be hard-pressed to rely on the assurances of the PUC over the warnings of the NSA," he said.

State authorities are considering an appeal.

"We respect Judge Woodcock’s decision," said Assistant Attorney General Christopher Taub, who represented the PUC. "Obviously, we’re disappointed. Over the next few days, we’ll be considering our options, one of which would be to appeal to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston."

The Maine ACLU disagreed with Woodcock's ruling.

"We don’t think it’s a national secret that the federal government and many phone companies conspired to conduct surveillance of phone customers in the U.S. and very possibly Maine," Shenna Bellows said. "It’s hard to believe that confirmation under oath about statements made widely in the press would violate state secrets."
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