Verizon On Pace to Get 300,000 Customer-Information Requests From Gov’t This Year

By Josh Long Comments
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Verizon is keeping busy responding to requests from the government for its customers’ information.

During the first six months of 2014, the telecommunications giant received 148,903 requests for customer information from local, state or federal law enforcement in the United States, according to Verizon’s second transparency report. That puts the company on pace to receive nearly 300,000 requests this year from the government, roughly on part with last year when Big Red received 321,545 law enforcement demands for customer data.

“We do not release customer information unless authorized by law, such as a valid law enforcement demand or an appropriate request in an emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury," the New York-based company explains.

During the first half of the year, Verizon received 37,302 court orders, which compelled the company to disclose information to the government. Only roughly 4,000 of the orders required the company to furnish access to data in real-time, including 714 wiretap orders. Verizon also reported being in receipt of 14,977 warrants and 24,257 emergency requests from law enforcement.

Finally, Verizon received 72,342 subpoenas, which requested information concerning 132,499 so-called information points, such as a phone number. The phone giant rejected roughly 3 percent of the subpoenas, deeming them invalid. Verizon said law enforcement generally issues the subpoenas in order to obtain subscriber data or the type of information that appears on a customer’s phone bill.

The subpoenas sought information relating to only roughly one-tenth of 1 percent of Verizon’s U.S. customers, Randal Milch, Verizon general counsel and executive vice president-public policy, law & security, wrote in a blog.

Milch said Verizon has taken a number of steps to protect the privacy of its customers, including expressing its support for legislation (USA Freedom Act) that will amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which will end bulk gathering of communications data.

Only a few months ago, AT&T and Verizon published annual transparency reports about information requested from the government after Sen. Ed Markey (D—Mass.) last year raised privacy concerns about wireless surveillance following an investigation that revealed data from eight U.S. carriers.

The annual reports included data on “national security letters" that relate to counterterrorism or counterintelligence.

In the first half of 2014, Verizon received between 0 and 999 national security letters. The Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t need a court order in order to obtain such a letter, but it cannot relate to “ordinary criminal, civil, or administrative matters," the company stated.

“Rather, the Director of the FBI or a senior designee must certify in writing that the information sought is relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such an investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States," Verizon explained.

Last year, the U.S. government issued a total of 19,212 national security letters, according to a transparency report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“We repeat our call for governments around the world to make public the number of demands they make for customer data from telecom and Internet companies," Milch declared in the blog. “Only governments can provide a comprehensive view of the demands they are making for information."

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