New Verizon Transparency Report Shows Large Government Appetite for Location, Content Data

The second transparency report from Verizon claims the company received nearly 150,000 total orders in the first half of 2014.

Verizon said in a new transparency report that though the number of some kinds of orders dropped–including wiretap orders and warrants–others rose, including general orders and pen register and trap and trace orders, and the company received nearly 150,000 total orders in the first half of 2014.

This is just the second transparency report from Verizon, which issued its first one in January, becoming the first U.S. telecom provider to do so. Privacy advocates and security experts had been pressuring telecoms to publish data about the volume and kind of requests they receive from law enforcement agencies domestically and abroad. In this edition, released Tuesday, the company split its data between U.S. and international requests.

For the most part, the U.S. data shows requests of all kinds from law enforcement holding relatively steady. However, there was a large drop in the number of subpoenas Verizon received in the first half of 2014, down to 72,342 from 82,092 for half of 2013. Because Verizon only published data for the second half of 2013 previously, it is reporting the historical comparative numbers as an even split of the 2013 totals. The other major decrease from the previous reporting period was in the volume of warrants, which fell from 18,348 to 14,977.

But perhaps the most interesting data point in the new transparency report is the volume of requests for customer location data that Verizon receives. In its first report, the company said it received about 35,000 such requests in calendar year 2013. The volume received in the first half of 2014 is slightly below that pace.

“In the first half of this year, we received almost 15,950 demands for location data: about two-thirds of those were through orders and one-third were through warrants. In addition, we received approximately 2,000 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 report says.

Verizon also received nearly 5,300 warrants requesting stored content data.

Verizon also received nearly 5,300 warrants requesting stored content data.

Verizon, like all other companies that report such numbers, is only allowed by the U.S. government to publish the volume of National Security Letters it receives in large ranges. In 2013, the company received between 1,000-1,999 NSLs, and in the first half of 2014 it received between 0-999.

“In the first half of 2014, we received between 0 and 999 NSLs from the FBI. Those NSLs sought information regarding between 2000 and 2999 ‘selectors’ used to identify a Verizon customer,” the report says.

The Verizon report comes shortly after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued its own limited transparency report, which showed that the FBI issued more than 19,000 NSLs in 2013. While telecoms and Internet giants such as Google, Twitter and Microsoft have made such reports a regular occurrence, Verizon officials called on governments to start producing their own data on law enforcement requests.

“We repeat our call for governments around the world to make public the number of demands they make for customer data from telecom and Internet companies.  Only governments can provide a comprehensive view of the demands they are making for information.  If the United States government can release a report regarding its demands in national security matters, certainly the United States government and other governments can report on the number of demands they make in criminal investigations,” the company said in a statement.

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