Verizon Finally Releases Transparency Report Showing Many Requests, But Scale Of Those Requests Is Missing

from the details-please dept

After quite a lot of pressure, both Verizon and AT&T agreed last month to issue transparency reports like those that Google has offered for years, and which most of the other large internet companies have started offering in the last year or two. Verizon released its first one today, showing that it's pretty busy handling government requests. These are the numbers from 2013:
  • Suboenas: 164,184
  • General court orders: 62,857
  • Pen Registers/Trap & Trace: 6,312
  • Wiretap orders: 1,496
  • Warrants: 36,696
  • "Emergency requests" from law enforcement: ~50,000
  • National Security Letters (NSLs): between 1,000 and 1,999
The report provides some further explanation. For example, it notes that over half of the subpoenas requested customer info -- i.e., the name and address of someone based on a phone number or IP address. Verizon does not say how often it refuses to provide information in response to a subpoena. In terms of getting access to content, Verizon notes that 14,500 of the warrants were for "stored content" which would be things like emails or text messages stored on Verizon's servers.

Of course, what this leaves out may be more interesting than what's included. While it lists the numbers for these requests, it gives no indication how many of its users are targeted. A single subpoena could, for example, request information on everyone. While that may be an extreme example, the point is that the number of requests doesn't really tell you very much overall. Or, perhaps not an extreme example. This report doesn't show, for example, what Verizon hands over under orders from the FISC under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. We already know that Section 215 has resulted in FISA orders for metadata on every Verizon mobile phone customers. That's probably counted as one single "court order" in that big list above. Similarly, as has been revealed in the past, the NSA works with telcos to directly tap the internet backbone for information. Where is that included in the list above?

Point being, this isn't all that "transparent," because bare numbers don't really mean that much.

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