U.S. Demanded Verizon Data More Than 320,000 Times

The figure dwarfs totals reported by Google and others.

A pedestrian walks past a Verizon Wireless store January 26, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. Verizon Communications said it plans to cut 13,00 jobs which is about 6 percent of its workforce. In 2009 Verizon cut 17,000 jobs.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
Jan. 22, 2014, 7:26 a.m.

Loc­al and fed­er­al law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials de­man­ded data on Ve­r­i­zon cus­tom­ers 321,545 times last year, the com­pany re­vealed Wed­nes­day.

It is the first time that Ve­r­i­zon or any oth­er ma­jor phone com­pany has re­vealed com­pre­hens­ive stat­ist­ics about gov­ern­ment ac­cess to cus­tom­er re­cords. Google and oth­er In­ter­net com­pan­ies have pro­duced sim­il­ar re­ports for sev­er­al years, and AT&T has said it plans to also re­veal its stat­ist­ics.

Ve­r­i­zon’s total dwarfs the stat­ist­ics re­vealed by Google and the oth­er In­ter­net com­pan­ies. Google has yet to an­nounce fig­ures for the second half of 2013, but through the first half of the year, the com­pany said it re­ceived 10,918 re­quests for user data.

Ve­r­i­zon’s re­port sheds little light on the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s sur­veil­lance pro­grams. The com­pany did not dis­cuss NSA de­mands un­der the Pat­ri­ot Act for bulk ac­cess to cus­tom­er data and was only al­lowed to say it re­ceived some­where between 1,000 and 1,999 Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Let­ters — se­cret­ive de­mands for data used mainly by the FBI.

The first — and still most con­tro­ver­sial — leak by Ed­ward Snowden was a secret court or­der re­quir­ing Ve­r­i­zon to turn over phone re­cords on all of its cus­tom­ers to the NSA. The NSA claims the pro­gram — which gives the agency ac­cess to phone num­bers, call times, and call dur­a­tions — is au­thor­ized un­der Sec­tion 215 of the Pat­ri­ot Act.

Rein­ing in bulk col­lec­tion is the top goal of civil-liber­ties act­iv­ists and pri­vacy-minded mem­bers of Con­gress. Pres­id­ent Obama on Fri­day said he wants to main­tain the NSA’s abil­ity to mine through mil­lions of phone re­cords, but he said the gov­ern­ment should give up con­trol over the phone data­base.

Ve­r­i­zon said it only com­plied with val­id re­quests but it did not re­veal how of­ten it ac­tu­ally turned over cus­tom­er data to the gov­ern­ment. The com­pany said it will be­gin track­ing its com­pli­ance rate for fu­ture re­ports.

“Pro­tect­ing our cus­tom­ers’ pri­vacy is a bed­rock com­mit­ment at Ve­r­i­zon,” Ran­dal Milch, Ve­r­i­zon’s gen­er­al coun­sel, said in a state­ment.

“While we have a leg­al ob­lig­a­tion to provide cus­tom­er in­form­a­tion to law en­force­ment in re­sponse to law­ful de­mands, we take ser­i­ously our duty to provide such in­form­a­tion only when au­thor­ized by law. Our ded­ic­ated teams care­fully re­view each de­mand and re­ject those that fail to com­ply with the law.”

The tele­com gi­ant said it re­ceived 164,000 sub­poen­as, which can give po­lice ac­cess to in­form­a­tion such as phone num­bers, names, ad­dresses and, in some cases, call his­tor­ies.

The com­pany re­ceived 70,665 court or­ders, in­clud­ing 1,496 wiretap or­ders, which al­low po­lice to listen in on phone calls. Ve­r­i­zon re­ceived 36,696 war­rants, which it said mostly covered loc­a­tion in­form­a­tion or stored mes­sages.

There were also about 50,000 emer­gency re­quests for data, which po­lice are only sup­posed to use if there is the pos­sib­il­ity of death or ser­i­ous in­jury.

In­ter­net com­pan­ies like Google, Ya­hoo, Face­book, and Mi­crosoft are lob­by­ing for the right to dis­close more in­form­a­tion about na­tion­al se­cur­ity re­quests for in­form­a­tion. The com­pan­ies have even sued the Justice De­part­ment, claim­ing the gag or­ders vi­ol­ate their First Amend­ment free speech rights.

While Ve­r­i­zon said it sup­ports more trans­par­ency, it ar­gued that the U.S. gov­ern­ment is in the best po­s­i­tion to re­veal more data.

In his state­ment, Milch said there is already a frame­work in place for in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to re­port sur­veil­lance stat­ist­ics to Con­gress.

“The United States gov­ern­ment should ex­pand on this ex­ist­ing frame­work and re­port an­nu­ally on the num­bers of all types of de­mands made by fed­er­al and state law en­force­ment to tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions and in­ter­net com­pan­ies for data re­gard­ing their cus­tom­ers,” he said.

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