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.

What We're Following See More »
CNN/ORC Has Clinton Up 5 Points
4 hours ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 49%-44% in a new CNN/ORC poll out Monday afternoon. But it's Gary Johnson's performance, or lack thereof, that's the real story. Johnson, who had cleared 10% in some surveys earlier this fall, as he made a bid to qualify for the debates, is down to 3% support. He must hit 5% nationwide for the Libertarian Party to qualify for some federal matching funds in future elections.

Rapper Jay Z to Perform Concert for Clinton
4 hours ago
Log Cabin Republicans Don’t Endorse Trump
4 hours ago

While the organization praised him for being "perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party," the Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Donald Trump for president. The organization, which is the largest gay organization in the United States, said that Trump failed to earn its endorsement because he surrounded himself with anti-LGBTQ people "and committed himself to supporting legislation such as the so-called 'First Amendment Defense Act' that Log Cabin Republicans opposes."

Congress Needs to Deal With Impending Nuclear Plant Closures
5 hours ago

Energy Secretary Ernesto Moniz is warning Congress "that Congress and businesses need to act with more urgency to work out a medley of challenges in promoting nuclear power." A number of nuclear plants are currently on track to close around 2030, unless their licenses are extended from 60 years to 80 years, something that could jeopardize the success of the Clean Power Plan. Moniz called on Congress to pass legislation creating interim storage facilities for used nuclear power.

Trump Pocketed Insurance Money Following 2005 Hurricane
5 hours ago

Donald Trump has said he received a $17 million insurance payment in 2005 following Hurricane Wilma, which he claimed did severe damage to his private club in Florida. However, an Associated Press investigation could not find any evidence of the large-scale damage that Trump has mentioned. Additionally, Trump claimed that he transferred some of the $17 million to his personal account thanks to a "very good insurance policy."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.