Summary:

Verizon is joining companies like Google and Facebook in deciding to publish a report that states how often the government asks for subscriber data.

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photo: Peshkova

Phone giant Verizon, which is at the center of an ongoing scandal over surveillance, is taking a cue from Silicon Valley tech firms and announcing that it will publish reports about government requests for customer data.

In a blog post Thursday afternoon, Verizon stated that its first so-called Transparency Report will appear in early 2014 and that “it will identify the total number of law enforcement agency requests received from government authorities in criminal cases.”

The practice of publishing such statistics was inaugurated by Google several years ago, and has since been copied by nearly every Silicon Valley tech giant, including Facebook and Apple. The reports disclose how often police departments and agencies like the FBI use warrants, subpoenas and other legal tools to obtain information about customers. The companies are currently in a bitter fight before America’s secret spy court over the right to disclose how many NSA requests they receive.

In the case of Verizon, the company’s decision to publish a transparency report is significant because it is the first major phone company to do so. Until now, the phone companies, unlike the tech industry, have largely supported the White House amidst a scandal over spying practices disclosed in a series of ongoing leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Verizon has attracted particular attention in the Snowden affair because it is named in several lawsuits that oppose the systematic collection of subscriber phone records for compilation in a giant database that a federal judge this week described as unconstitutional.

While the rise of transparency reports promises a new window into how governments are collecting information about citizens, the reports have also, however, become political gimmicks for companies to deflect criticism or attempt to one-up industry rivals.

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