Verizon plans to issue transparency report, despite silence on NSA co-operation

The phone and cellular giant, which has been forced under a court order, leaked by Edward Snowden, to hand all business records to the NSA, plans to dish out more details on government data requests.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: CNET

Verizon announced Wednesday it will begin publishing transparency reports on government data requests beginning 2014.

It's the first telecoms company to publish a transparency report on requests for data made by the U.S. government, which could see other companies — such as rival AT&T — follow in its footsteps.

The company said in a statement it will publish the report semi-annually. 

"All companies are required to provide information to government agencies in certain circumstances, however, and this new report is intended to provide more transparency about law enforcement requests," said Verizon's general counsel Randal Milch. "Although we have a legal obligation to provide customer information to law enforcement in response to lawful demands, we take seriously our duty to provide such information only when authorized by law."

"Authorized by law."

Exactly how far it will go may have some skeptics even more concerned. Because telcos are regulated differently from technology companies and governed under similar but also separate laws, there will be only so much Verizon will be able to say. 

While it's a step in the right direction, it will all but certainly be a very one-sided and incomplete picture of the overall level of requests made by the government.

A Verizon spokesperson previously told ZDNet it had "no comment" in regards to whether or not the telecoms giant will join other Silicon Valley companies in challenging a secret government court ruling, which allows federal intelligence agencies from accessing massive amounts of U.S. citizen, foreign national, and Verizon customer data.

The company also declined to comment on whether it was subject to a secret court order.

However, the very first leaked document provided by former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden revealed a court order that forced Verizon under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to vacuum up vast amounts of fiber optic cable data.

However, Verizon did say it is currently "working" with the U.S. government to break out the number of National Security Letters the company received last year.

Currently, Silicon Valley technology companies are not allowed to disclose the exact number of these Patriot Act requests it receives. But, many companies — such as Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Yahoo — are suing the U.S. government in order to disclose the precise figure, rather than just a numerical range.

The report will break out data under categories such as subpoenas, court orders, and warrants. Verizon said it will also provide other details about the legal demands it receives, including information about requests for information in emergencies.

But, the statement read, the company will not disclose information about other national security requests received by the company.

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