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AT&T, Verizon Disclose National Security Demands for Data

The Federal Bureau of Investigation last year issued between 2,000 and 2,999 subpoenas to AT&T Inc. in connection with counterterrorism or counterintelligence, the telecommunications titan disclosed in an annual transparency report.

AT&T said the “national security letters” it received impacted between 4,000 and 4,999 customer accounts. The subpoenas do not demand the actual content of communications but relate to such information as subscriber details and phone numbers dialed, AT&T noted.

Last year, Verizon Communications Inc. received between 1,000 and 2,000 national security letters, according to its transparency report.

Verizon said it is not authorized to disclose the precise number of letters.

The information was disclosed after Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) raised privacy concerns last year about wireless surveillance after publishing an investigation that revealed data from eight U.S. carriers.

“In the past year, there has been greater focus than ever on the use of legal demands by governments around the world to obtain customer data,” Verizon general counsel Randal Milch stated last year in a news release. “Like others in the industry, the aim of our transparency report is to keep our customers informed about government requests for their data and how we respond to those requests. Verizon calls on governments around the world to provide more information on the types and amounts of data they collect and the legal processes that apply when they do so.”

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government and Americans have become more keenly aware of the threats of international terrorism, seeking to balance the safety of the public with the right to privacy.

Pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), AT&T was ordered by courts to respond to requests for data concerning such national security probes as international terrorism and espionage. The data can include “content” and “non-content.” Between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2013, AT&T received fewer than 1,000 requests for content (0-999) impacting 35,000 to 35,999 customer accounts, according to the company.

Recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice authorized AT&T to disclose the national security letters and FISA court orders, the company said.

AT&T also disclosed receiving 301,816 criminal and civil demands from local, state and federal authorities, including 223, 659 criminal subpoenas. AT&T cited 3,756 instances in which it rejected or challenged the request for data.

The number of customers affected by the civil and criminal demands was not disclosed.

While AT&T noted it would like to provide this data, it explained “demands for information in civil or criminal matters involve a wide range of variables – making it very difficult to tally the number of customers whose information was provided in response to those demands.”

Last year, Verizon received roughly 320,000 requests for data from local, state and federal law enforcement, according to its transparency report. The company received approximately 164,000 subpoenas, 70,000 court orders and 36,000 warrants.

Combined, the number of orders for stored content and to wiretap communications in real time comprised only 5 percent of the total demands Verizon received last year.

Verizon said it only provides content such as emails and text messages in response to warrants. Last year, Verizon received roughly 14,500 warrants for such content. The company also revealed receiving roughly 35,000 demands for location data, with 24,000 demands coming through orders and another 11,000 via warrants.

Verizon also disclosed law-enforcement demands for data outside the United States, with Germany (2,996) leading the way, followed by France (1,347), Belgium (473) and the United Kingdom (386).

Finally, Verizon said it received demands last year in five countries to block access to specified websites outside the United States. In Columbia, for instance, the telecom giant blocked access to 1,200 websites that the local government believed contained child pornography.  

AT&T said it received 22 international demands, including 11 related to law enforcement and the same number concerning URL/IP blocking.


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