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Verizon Reveals Law-Enforcement Demands Following Microsoft Ruling

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Josh LongVerizon received nearly 136,000 demands for customer information from U.S. law enforcement in the first half of the year, the telecommunications giant revealed Wednesday in its biannual transparency report.

They include approximately 67,000 subpoenas, 33,000 orders – including 656 wiretap orders – and 23,000 emergency requests.

The number of demands was fairly consistent with prior periods. In 2015, Verizon received roughly 289,000 demands for customer information from U.S. law enforcement.{ad}

The New York-based company also disclosed the number of similar demands it received in countries outside the U.S. where it conducts business. A number of countries – including Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Spain, among others – did not make any demands for transactional or customer information, Verizon’s international report revealed. Belgium, France and Germany are among nine nations that made demands.

While none of the U.S. law enforcement demands sought the data of Verizon’s customers stored in the carrier’s overseas data centers, the company said a July 14 court decision involving Microsoft was an important one nonetheless. In support of the software giant, Verizon had filed a “friend of the court” brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Verizon's Craig SillimanA three-judge panel with the Second Circuit ruled in favor of Microsoft, which had been battling the U.S. government over a warrant that was issued under the Stored Communications Act and served on the company at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The warrant required Microsoft to produce the contents of a customer’s email account that was stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland. A U.S. magistrate judge had issued the warrant after finding probable cause that the account was being used in support of narcotics trafficking.

Verizon explained its interest in the case.

“We wanted to ensure that our customers outside the United States have confidence that the U.S. government cannot compel Verizon to turn over their data stored in our overseas data centers,” wrote Craig Silliman, Verizon’s general counsel and executive vice president for public policy, in an article announcing Verizon’s transparency report. “Last week’s decision makes clear that is the law and refutes …

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… contrary assertions by competitors in Europe that, in an effort to win business away from U.S.-headquartered companies, have been inaccurately asserting that U.S. warrants have extraterritorial reach.”

The U.S. government argued that Microsoft needed to deliver the records to the government regardless of where they were located, if the company had custody or control over them. The Second Circuit held that the district court lacked authority to enforce the warrant against Microsoft.

“When, in 1986, Congress passed the Stored Communications Act as part of the broader Electronic Communications Privacy Act, its aim was to protect user privacy in the context of new technology that required a user’s interaction with a service

Provider,” Circuit Judge Susan L. Carney wrote in the decision reversing the lower court’s denial of Microsoft’s motion to quash the warrant. “Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the statute envision the application of its warrant provisions overseas. Three decades ago, international boundaries were not so routinely crossed as they are today, when service providers rely on worldwide networks of hardware to satisfy users’ 21st–century demands for access and speed and their related, evolving expectations of privacy.”

While the Second Circuit’s ruling was hailed as a victory for tech companies, it may not be over if the government appeals and the Supreme Court reviews the case.

In referencing the dispute, a Microsoft executive last year called for governments to cooperate with each other when they are seeking data that is stored on foreign soil. In the lawsuit, Microsoft had pointed out that the United States and Government of Ireland often cooperated closely and had a “Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.”

“International cooperation, rather than unilateral intervention across borders, should be the first step that governments take when they want data that is stored somewhere else,” Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in prepared remarks at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, Belgium.


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