Verizon Enterprise Solutions president John Stratton launched a stinging critique of several US-based IT companies that will sue the National Security Agency (NSA) in order to be able to reveal more about their interactions with the intelligence agency.
In a media briefing in Tokyo, Stratton, the former chief operating officer of Verizon Wireless, said the company is "compelled" to abide by the law in each country that it operates in, and accused companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo of playing up to their customers' indignation at the information contained in the continuing Snowden leak saga.
Stratton said that he appreciated that "consumer-centric IT firms" such as Yahoo, Google, Microsoft needed to "grandstand a bit, and wave their arms and protest loudly so as not to offend the sensibility of their customers."
"This is a more important issue than that which is generated in a press release. This is a matter of national security."
Stratton said the larger issue that failed to be addressed in the actions of the companies is of keeping security and liberty in balance.
"There is another question that needs to be kept in the balance, which is a question of civil liberty and the rights of the individual citizen in the context of that broader set of protections that the government seeks to create in its society."
Verizon found itself in hot water when it came to light that the company was handing over metadata for all calls on its systems on an "ongoing, daily basis". The information handed over to the NSA included routing data, such as the originating and recipient phone number; the IMEI unique phone identifier; the IMSI number used to identify calls on cellular networks; trunk identifiers; phone calling cards; and the time, date, and duration of the calls.
The public revelations of the NSA's actions have created a great debate, the Verizon executive said, and each country will need to create its own balance between civil liberties and the security and protection offered by the state. As such, Stratton said that such decisions reached would not be made by the leadership teams of corporations.
"This is not a question that will be answered by a telecom executive, this is not a question that will be answered by an IT executive. This is a question that must be answered by societies themselves.
"I believe this is a bigger issue, and press releases and fizzy statements don't get at the issue; it needs to be solved by society."
Stratton said that as a company, Verizon follows the law, and those laws are set by governments.
"The laws are not set by Verizon, they are set by the governments in which we operate. I think its important for us to recognise that we participate in debate, as citizens, but as a company I have obligations that I am going to follow."
On the question of Verizon handing such information over to the American intelligence agency, Stratton said that the company takes its obligations very seriously.
"Verizon, like every communications company on the planet, operates in many jurisdictions, and our obligation in operating in those jurisdictions is to comply with the law in those places where we do business. So whether that be in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Japan, whoever it is that we have a licence with to operate our business, we have these obligations," he said.
"As it relates to the NSA — as has been discussed, the information was conveyed under a very rigorous process that had oversight by all three branches of the United States government."
Stratton claimed that the processes involved to control of the scope of data given to the NSA is under very high scrutiny, that Verizon had never gone beyond offering metadata, and that it is important for the company to hold that line.
"None of the content of customers' communication was revealed by Verizon.
"Verizon is not unique in the world in terms of its need to comply with the laws of the countries in which it operates. These requirements that are put upon it by governments, duly elected governments, are something that we are very careful about, very thoughtful about, and we work vigorously to protect the privacy of our customers data."
Chris Duckett travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Verizon.