The Government Really Can Hear You Now: Verizon Releases First Transparency Report



Verizon wireless has released its first ever transparency report revealing how many demands from law enforcement for information about its customers the company received in 2013. in total: 321,545 such demands. How many such demands were warrants based on probable cause? Just 36,696 of them. 

Under what circumstances does the company provide information about the content of its customers' communications, stored data and locations?

Content. We are compelled to provide contents of communications to law enforcement relatively infrequently. Under the law, law enforcement may seek communications or other content that a customer may store through our services, such as text messages or email. Verizon only releases such stored content to law enforcement with a warrant; we do not produce stored content in response to a general order or subpoena. Last year, we received approximately 14,500 warrants for stored content. 

As explained above, law enforcement may also present a wiretap order to obtain access to the content of a communication as it is taking place, which they did about 1,500 times last year. Taken together, the number of orders for stored content and to wiretap content in real-time accounted for only about five percent of the total number of demands we received in 2013.

Location Information.  Verizon only produces location information in response to a warrant or order; we do not produce location information in response to a subpoena. Last year, we received about 35,000 demands for location data: about 24,000 of those were through orders and about 11,000 through warrants. In addition, we received about 3,200 warrants or court orders for "cell tower dumps" last year. In such instances, the warrant or court order compelled us to identify the phone numbers of all phones that connected to a specific cell tower during a given period of time. The number of warrants and orders for location information are increasing each year.

Oddly, the Feds will not let the company tell us the exact number of National Security Letters that it receives. NSLs cannot be used to obtain information about the contents of communications, but the FBI need not go to a court to issue an NSL.

We also received between 1,000 and 2,000 National Security Letters in 2013. We are not permitted to disclose the exact number of National Security Letters that were issued to us, but the government will allow us to provide a broad range.

Apparently, knowing just how many NSLs the FBI issues will empower enemies domestic and foreign.

It's way past time to rein in government snooping by reforming the Electronic Privacy Communications Act to apply Fourth Amendment protections to our electronic communications and data storage.