Verizon has published its first transparency report detailing how often governments come calling for customer records and conversations – and the results show the amount of stuff Google, Microsoft and others hand over is just a drop in the ocean by comparison.
"Our report reflects the fact that telecom providers receive more government demands than companies in perhaps any other industry," said the company in a blog post.
"Information about individuals’ use of their communications equipment has become a uniquely important tool for law enforcement to protect citizens and bring wrongdoers to justice. As such, it should come as no surprise that the number of government demands directed to the major telecom providers is much greater than the number of demands directed to companies that do not offer the same communications services."
Last year the network operator received 321,545 requests for customer data from US law enforcement, including 6,312 tap-and-trace demands and 1,496 orders to wiretap subscribers' calls. In addition, the company was subject to between 1,000 and 2,000 national security letters – a presidentially issued order to hand over data, the details of which cannot be revealed.
By contrast, the total number of data investigation orders about Verizon's non-US customers came to 5,392. Germany was the top snooping nation, with 2,996 orders, followed by France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The UK asked only 386 times.
Bear in mind that the figures Verizon is disclosing just reveal the number of information requests, not the number of subscribers under surveillance. Based on the files provided by ex-NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in his first leak, just one order covers the collection of metadata for all US customers, a "request" that is still in force today. But the company said that requests for the content of calls are somewhat limited.
"The vast majority of the demands we receive are not for user content; in fact, demands for any user content – such as stored content (like text messages or emails) and content in real-time (wiretaps) – accounted for only about five percent of the total demands we received in 2013," it said.
That said, Verizon reported there were other data requests that it was not allowed to reveal, but it promised that it was working with the US government to try and add more transparency for future reports.
On Friday, President Obama said he will ease restrictions on the amount of information companies can share about what data is being slurped by the NSA and others. Verizon said that this report had benefited from the loosened restrictions but that it hoped to share more data in the future. ®