AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted Monday to seek more information from Verizon Communications before deciding whether to open an investigation into whether it violated privacy laws by cooperating with a domestic surveillance program.

The Bush administration has threatened to sue if the agency proceeds with an investigation, which was requested by 22 Maine residents.

On Monday, MPUC gave Verizon two weeks to provide additional information, including a sworn statement attesting to previous public statements that related to the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

In a May 16 news release, Verizon said it would not discuss any relationship with the NSA but it went on to deny media reports that it had provided customer call data or information.

“Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by the NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records… or any call data from those records,” Verizon said.

Critics say that statement fails to address whether Verizon made equipment available allowing the NSA to monitor conversations or e-mail on its own.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said she was disappointed that the state regulators did not proceed with a formal investigation.

“Verizon has had ample time to deny involvement in the case, and has refused to do. We’re not certain if Verizon is going to provide sufficient assurances to the commission that will preclude an investigation,” she said.

Maine law requires the PUC to investigate complaints against a utility if a petition involves at least 10 of the utility’s customers.

Similar cases have surfaced in other states.

The Justice Department has filed lawsuits to prevent the disclosure of information in New Jersey and Missouri. The department also has threatened to sue if officials in Vermont open their own investigation.


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