One day after Verizon said it will start reporting on how often governments request customer data, its phone company rival AT&T said it intends to do the same.
In a press release published on Friday afternoon, AT&T stated that a current debate over how to balance personal privacy and national security is a “healthy one,” and that the company is taking steps to “provide transparency into government requests for customer information.”
In order to do so, AT&T will next year start publishing semi-annual reports to show how many subpoenas, warrants and other types of legal demands for customer information that it receives from the government.
The decision by Verizon and AT&T to publish such reports is significant because, until now, the phone carriers have largely stayed out of the controversial debate over government surveillance practices. That debate turns, in no small part, on a giant database of phone records that the government updates everyday, and that is of dubious constitutional validity.
AT&T’s release also stated that the company is restricted by law about what it can say about surveillance and government demands, but that it makes sure all such demands are lawful. In one potentially significant portion of the release, the phone company claims that:
We only provide wireless customer location data in response to a court order except in the rare cases in which an emergency compels us to do so.
This claim matters in light of ongoing leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that suggest “two unnamed corporate partners” are collecting cellphone location data and supplying it to the NSA whenever the agency “ask nicely.”