Time Warner Cable has joined a half-dozen telecommunications and technology companies that, in the past six months, have published their first transparency report on government and law enforcement requests for user data and content.
Since the Edward Snowden leaks began last June, transparency reports have become a provider’s best vehicle for communicating with customers and the industry about how much data they are legally compelled to share with the government and authorities. Companies have also gone to great lengths to increase the degree of transparency they can have to dispel any perception that a provider might be complicit in any intelligence agency surveillance activity.
For example, earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice relaxed the reporting rules for companies, allowing them more flexibility in sharing how many National Security Letters and requests made for customer data and content under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Time Warner’s transparency report, released on Friday, revealed that the giant cable and Internet provider received between 0 and 249 national security-related orders on the same range of customer accounts between January 2013 and June 2013. Organizations are not permitted to release the exact number of National Security Letters and FISA orders they receive, but may report them in ranges of 250. Prior to January, companies could report only in buckets of 0-999, leading companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft to sue the government looking for more transparency. The January decision came in exchange for the companies’ withdrawal of their respective legal action.
“We believe helping our customers understand how often information about our customers is being requested is important,” Time Warner said in a statement Friday.
The company’s transparency report covered the entirety of 2013; Time Warner filed in the neighborhood of 12,000 requests last year, affecting close to 16,000 customer accounts. The vast majority of requests came via subpoenas (82 percent). Court orders made up 12 percent of requests, and search warrants 4 percent. The remainder of the requests were emergency requests, pen register/trap and trace orders, and wiretap orders.
Time Warner reported that it disclosed user content in 3 percent of requests. Subscriber information, also known as non-content requests, was provided in 77 percent of requests while no data was disclosed in 20 percent of requests. Non-content requests are limited to a customer’s name, address, phone number and IP address, Time Warner said. The company said it provides “meaningful notice” to customers if their information is requested by the government unless explicitly told not to.
“Time Warner Cable carefully reviews each order to ensure that it is a lawful request,” the company said. “If there is any question about the validity or scope of a request, we challenge it in the same manner we challenge all demands for customer information.”