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Verizon Received 320,000 Law Enforcement Requests For Customer Data Last Year

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Verizon received 320,000 U.S. law enforcement requests for customer names, phone call records, text messages, and other kinds of customer data in 2013, the company revealed in a report released Wednesday.

Phone carriers had long resisted efforts to release such transparency reports, which privacy-minded internet companies have issued for years. But Verizon changed course after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that it was turning U.S. customers' phone data to the government in bulk. It is the first major phone company to release such a report.

“The past year saw an intense focus around the world on government demands to obtain customer data,” Randal Milch, Verizon's general counsel and executive vice president for public policy, dryly noted in a blog post accompanying the release of the report.

Verizon's report revealed that local, state and federal law enforcers asked for data 164,184 times via subpoenas, 70,665 times via court orders, and 36,696 times via warrants, which require a judge to find there is probable cause to believe they will produce evidence in a crime since they can actually obtain the content of a communication. There were also approximately 50,000 emergency requests for data from law enforcement.

The report only covers Verizon, the largest company in the industry. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) compiled letters in December showing that the three major wireless carriers had together received more than 1 million law enforcement data requests in 2012.

Verizon also received 1,000 to 2,000 national security letters in 2013. These FBI orders, which do not require a judge's approval and can be kept secret from their targets with a gag order, produced names, address, service subscription times and call records.

President Barack Obama last Friday rejected the recommendations of a White House review panel to require a judge's order for national security letters, but said he would try to increase transparency around their use.

Milch argued that it is ultimately up to governments to release the fullest, most complete data about their request for citizens' data.

"While Verizon and several other companies have decided to provide data on requests from law enforcement, these efforts still provide an incomplete picture of government action, given the vast number of telecommunications and internet companies around the world that are not publicly reporting this information," he said in his blog post. "The only truly comprehensive and uniform data set is in the hands of the governments themselves, and we call on all governments to make public the number of demands they make for customer data from telecommunications and Internet companies."

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