Verizon: US gov't made 320,000 requests for customer info in '13

Law enforcement requests to Verizon far exceed those made to other tech companies
  • (IDG News Service)
  • — 22 January, 2014 17:24

Verizon Communications received more than 320,000 requests for customer information from U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in 2013, more than 100 times the number of requests from any other country, the telecom carrier said in its first surveillance transparency report.

The number of law enforcement requests to Verizon dwarfed the number of requests to some large tech vendors. Google received about 11,000 law enforcement requests in the first half of 2013, while Yahoo received about 12,000 and Apple less than 2,000 in the same time frame.

Verizon received more than 164,000 subpoenas from U.S. law enforcement agencies and nearly 71,000 court orders, including more than 6,300 pen register or trap and trace orders and nearly 1,500 wiretap orders last year, Verizon said. A pen register order requires a carrier to provide law enforcement with real-time access to phone numbers as they are dialed, while a trap and trace order requires them to provide real-time access to the phone numbers from incoming calls.

With Verizon's main business based in the U.S., the numbers of law enforcement requests from other countries were tiny in comparison. Germany made nearly 3,000 requests to Verizon last year, France made about 1,300, and Belgium about 500. U.K. law enforcement agencies made about 400 requests for Verizon customer information.

"The past year saw an intense focus around the world on government demands to obtain customer data," said Randal Milch, Verizon's general counsel and executive vice president for public policy, law and security.

The company plans to update the transparency report twice a year, he wrote in a blog post. Verizon believes the transparency report will "add to the ongoing conversation about privacy and public safety," he added.

The U.S. government issued between 1,000 and 2,000 national security letters to Verizon during 2013, the company said. Companies aren't allowed to disclose the exact number of national security letters, issued under a program by which agencies, often the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, can make a secret demand of information supposedly related to national security.

U.S. courts issued nearly 37,000 warrants to Verizon for customer data during 2013, the company said.

Verizon said it produces customer location information only in response to a warrant or order, not a subpoena. Last year, the company received about 35,000 demands for location data, and another 3,200 warrants or court orders for so-called cell tower dumps, requirements to identify the phone numbers of all phones that connected to a specific cell tower during a given period of time.

In 2013, Verizon received 85,000 emergency requests for information from law enforcement in matters involving the danger of death or serious physical injury or from emergency call centers relating to particular 911 calls from the public. About 50,000 of those requests were from law enforcement agencies, with the rest from emergency call centers after receiving 911 calls, the company said.

Verizon is one of a handful of tech and telecom companies that have begun to publish surveillance transparency reports after revelations last year of U.S. National Security Agency programs by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Topics: U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, telecommunication, U.S. National Security Agency, Randal Milch, government, privacy, Verizon Communications, Yahoo, Apple, Google, Edward Snowden, security
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