Upstart Mobile Provider Publishes Industry’s First Transparency Report

CREDO Mobile, the company thought to be at the center of a suit challenging the legality of National Security Letters, published the mobile industry’s first transparency report.

Credo Mobile, the small San Francisco mobile provider that is reportedly the unnamed plaintiff in a suit that challenged the legality of national security letters, yesterday published its first transparency report, the first such report published by a mobile provider.

Credo, which has raised tens of millions of dollars for political and social causes during its 29 years, runs a wireless business to support its activism, selling voice and data plans as well as mobile devices to a customer base of about 120,000.

Last March, a federal judge in California ruled national security letters were unconstitutional, as is the law that mutes companies from talking about how many such requests they receive and how with which they are in compliance.

The ruling stems from a suit filed by an unnamed telecommunications company that challenged a NSL it received in 2011 from the FBI seeking information on one of its customers. Companies are banned from informing the customer involved or disclosing how many letters they receive aside from reporting them in ranges of 1,000.

The Wall Street Journal, in the meantime, reported in 2012 that Credo was likely the telecom provider that brought the challenge.

A number of technology companies have tried on varied occasions to petition the government for additional reporting leeway where national security letters are concerned, but all have been rebuffed to date. The ruling by Federal District Court of San Francisco judge Susan Illston was stayed to give the government an opportunity to appeal.

“It is important to note that it may not be possible for CREDO or any telecom carrier to release to the public a full transparency report, as the USA PATRIOT Act and other statutes give law enforcement the ability to prevent companies from disclosing whether or not they have received certain orders, such as National Security Letters (NSLs) and Section 215 orders seeking customer information,” the company said in a press release. “CREDO has and continues to publicly advocate for the repeal of laws such as these that infringe upon our customers’ constitutional right to due process.”

Credo reported 15 requests from the government for customer information and one emergency request; the company complied with 14 of those requests (88 percent), turning over some or all information requested. But for none of those requests did it turn over communication content.

The company states on its website that supports repeal of the US PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act.

“We strongly believe there should be as much transparency as possible regarding government surveillance, and that our customers have the right to know when governmental entities request access to their information or communications,” Credo said in announcing the report.

Credo beat telecommunications giants AT&T and Verizon to the punch with its transparency reports. Both AT&T and Verizon relented with their recent announcements they would begin publishing transparency reports this year.

In December, AT&T was vocal about its refusal to publish a transparency report, citing customer privacy concerns. This raised the ire of privacy advocates and shareholders who pressured the company to share numbers on how  much data it shares with the government.

Verizon also received similar pressure from its shareholders, yet both refused to cave initially. Verizon went so far as to label the reports from some tech companies as grandstanding. Both telcos also said shareholders had no standing on which to demand such reports.

Yet just before Christmas, the companies relented and announced plans to publish transparency reports this year.

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