Compliance Management, Privacy

Verizon: 2013 law enforcement requests for consumer data top 320,000

Verizon released a transparency report, detailing federal, state and local law enforcement requests it received for user data last year.

According to the report published Wednesday, the service provider was tapped with 321,545 requests for customer information – demands that were made via subpoenas, court orders and warrants.

Upon releasing the information, Verizon became the first major telecommunications company to publish a transparency report. Earlier this month, a small mobile service provider, San Francisco-based Credo Mobile, released its report as the public awaited findings from major players Verizon and AT&T.

Among Verizon's law enforcement requests, were demands that came via 164,184 subpoenas, 70,665 court orders (including wiretap orders) and 36,696 warrants.

The report explained that Verizon only releases contents of customer communications, such as text messages or emails, if it receives a warrant from law enforcement (the company received approximately 14,500 warrants for stored content).

Last year, 35,000 law enforcement requests demanded location information, which Verizon only produces under warrant or court order, the report revealed.

Of the total demands for user data, the service provider also received approximately 50,000 emergency requests from law enforcement, which are defined as data requests needed to “help resolve serious emergencies,” which could lead to death, serious injury or other life-threatening scenarios.

Verizon also received between 1,000 and 2,000 National Security Letters (NSLs), which government agencies use to demand information of companies.

The company saw an overall increase in the number of demands for customer information last year (more than 320,000 in total), compared to 2012.

New York-based Verizon agreed to publish its transparency report after being prodded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocates, which filed a shareholder proposal in November requesting the information be shared with the public.

In a Thursday interview with, Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California, compared the actions taken by law enforcement to an “unsupervised shopping spree through a treasure trove of data showing who we are, where we go and who we talk to.”

“We are pleased they finally released their transparency report,” Ozer said. “It doesn't give a full picture to the public about government and civil demands, but it is really rich with information that is essential for the public to know," she continued.

Ozer added that the climbing number of requests from law enforcement, many of which are submitted without a warrant, is essential to helping lawmakers take action, and keeping the public informed. 

Of the more than 320,000 data requests from the government last year, only 36,696 demands for Verizon data came via a warrant, which law enforcement can only obtain after demonstrating "probable cause" before a judge. 

"This first transparency report from Verizon really starts to clear the air and provide a real picture to the public of just how vulnerable our personal information is to government demand," Ozer said. "And the vast majority of those demands don't come with a warrant."

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