Another Update to our Transparency Report

By: Craig Silliman
The latest version of our transparency report covers the second half of 2016.

Verizon is pleased to release our Transparency Report for the second half of 2016. As in the past, this report describes the different types of demands we receive and the types of data that we disclose in response to those demands.

During the second half of 2016, we received 130,000 demands for customer information from United States law enforcement.  The number of demands that we have received each year has been fairly stable since we made our first report three years ago.  

Protecting our customers’ privacy will always be a bedrock commitment at Verizon. While 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.  To that end, we continue to carefully review each demand we receive and, where appropriate, we require law enforcement agencies to narrow the scope of their demands or correct errors in those demands before we produce some or all of the information sought.

We see our semi-annual Transparency Report as an opportunity to share information with our customers and interested readers about the powerful tools granted to our law enforcement agencies.  In this issue of our Report, we provide more detail about the National Security Letters we have received from the FBI.  Specifically, as explained in our Report, we are permitted to disclose that we received three NSLs over the past few years for which the non-disclosure requirements have been lifted.

Our Report has always detailed the number of demands we receive from law enforcement for location information.  In October, I explained that Verizon, like other wireless carriers, is collecting more voluminous and more precise location information than in earlier years.  The court decisions on what legal standard law enforcement must meet in order to demand access to location information are based on the “third party doctrine,” which holds that a customer has no expectation of privacy in information that she conveys to a third party.  In the blog, I asked at what point the volume and precision of location information conveyed to the network in the ordinary use of mobile devices might lead the U.S. Supreme Court to revise its view of an individual’s expectation of privacy with respect to location information.  In the next month or two, the Supreme Court will determine whether to revisit this issue.

Speaking of location information, there has been a recent focus on a tool, often called a “cell tower dump,” that judges allow law enforcement to use to compel carriers to identify the phone numbers for all devices near a cell tower at a certain time.  This Report notes that we have received a substantially increased number of demands for these so-called cell tower dumps.  Notwithstanding the growth in the total amount of demands, the amount of phone numbers we are collecting and required to share with law enforcement in response to each of these demands is decreasing.  Part of the reason for this may be the cell densification I describe in my blog, i.e., many of our cell sites now cover a smaller geographic area, so there generally will be fewer devices in each of those areas.  But as explained in our Report, it may also be because our team is asking law enforcement to narrow the scope of some broad demands. 

No doubt, as evidenced by the ongoing public debate, there is a delicate balance between privacy on one hand and law enforcement and national security on the other.  We hope that our Transparency Reports can continue to add to the public discussion about the proper balance between privacy and security.

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About the author(s): 

Craig Silliman is Verizon’s Executive Vice President, Public Policy and General Counsel. @craigsilliman