Verizon promised back in December it would give the public a glimpse behind the curtain on its dealings with government information requests and, as promised, it published its first transparency report on Wednesday. The report details the number of subpoenas, wiretap requests and warrants Verizon received last year, but anyone hoping to get insight into Verizon’s cooperation with NSA will be sorely disappointed.
As Verizon has stated, it’s prohibited from revealing any information about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders, which are at the heart of a international controversy over the NSA collecting subscriber metadata indiscriminately from phone companies.
The closest Verizon got was to reveal that it had received between 1,000 and 1,999 national security letters (NSLs) from the FBI. NSLs are requests for specific subscriber data pertaining to an ongoing terrorism or national security investigation, and they don’t need the signature of a judge. But they’re not the same things as FISA orders.
Verizon isn’t being cagey. Everyone in the tech industry is under a similar gag order when it comes to FISA and the government’s secretive spy courts. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and others are pleading with the government to allow them to release more data on their cooperation with the NSA and other agencies. In a blog post today, Verizon EVP of Public Policy and General Counsel Randal Milch joined in on the call for the government to be more transparent on the information it is demanding from the telecom and internet industries.
Still, the information Verizon did reveal in its report was interesting. The greatest number of (non-FISA) requests it received came in the form of law enforcement subpoenas for subscriber information. It processed 164,184 of those subpoenas in 2013. It received 70,665 court orders to provide subscriber historical subscriber data or real-time info via pen registers or trap-and-traces, as well as 36,696 warrants mostly for stored content or location information.
Verizon received 1,496 requests for wire taps on phone lines, which allow law enforcement to listen directly to conversations. The carrier also enumerated the information requests it received from international law enforcements agencies for data. The most came from Germany with 2,996 requests, followed by France with 1,347.
AT&T has said it, too, will publish its own transparency report early this year.