Verizon Updates Transparency Report with FISA Order Data

Verizon updated its transparency report, publishing data on FISA orders for customer content and account information.

Verizon updated its transparency report yesterday, breaking down National Security Letter and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders for the first and second halves of 2013.

The telecommunications giant released its first transparency report in late January, responding to pressure from privacy advocates to publish law enforcement and government requests for data in the wake of the Snowden leaks. AT&T has also published its first transparency report, though both AT&T and Verizon lag behind Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter that have been sharing data for more than a year.

Verizon’s update doesn’t radically stray from the numbers it shared in January; during the first six months of 2013, the telecom received between 0-999 National Security Letters and 0-999 FISA Orders for content and customer information. The same range of requests was true for the period between July 1 and Dec. 31, the company said.

This is the first time Verizon reported on FISA orders since a Department of Justice ruling eased a gag order on companies that prevented publishing of such data. The ruling was a concession after months of lobbying and lawsuits from Internet companies requesting greater transparency and to dispel the notion that they were complicit with government snooping on users by providing intelligence agencies and law enforcement direct access to company servers.

Now companies are allowed two reporting options, in ranges of 0-999 or specific numbers up to 250 requests and then in ranges of 250 thereafter. The DOJ also requires a six-month quiet period on FISA order requests.

“We welcome greater transparency in this area by telecommunications and internet companies, in the absence of broader information by the government collecting the data,” said Verizon general counsel Randal Milch. “We once again call on all governments to make public the number of demands they make for customer data from such companies, because that is the only way to provide the public with an accurate data set.”

Verizon also reported that between 4,000 and 4,999 customer selectors were targeted by National Security Letters and FISA Orders for content and user information. Selectors, Verizon said, are customer identifiers used by the company and that identifier is generally a phone number.

“The number of selectors is generally greater than the number of customer accounts,” Verizon said in a statement. “An NSL might ask for the names associated with two different telephone numbers; even if both phone numbers were assigned to the same customer account, we would count them as two selectors.”

Verizon reported on Jan. 22 that it also received 36,000 warrants requesting location information or stored content data from its landline, Internet and wireless services; the court-ordered location data requests, Verizon said, are growing in frequency every year.

“Verizon only produces location information in response to a warrant or order; we do not produce location information in response to a subpoena,” Verizon said in a statement at the time. Of the 35,000 requests, 24,000 were through court orders and the rest through warrants. It also received about 3,200 warrants or court orders for “cell tower dumps” where under a warrant or court order Verizon was compelled to identify the phone numbers of all phones that connected to a specific cell tower during a given period of time.

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