United States report
The table below sets out the number of subpoenas, orders, warrants and emergency requests we received from federal, state or local law enforcement in the United States in the first half of 2020. The table presents data for the past three years; data from prior periods can be found by clicking on the Archive tab at the top of the page.
The vast majority of these various types of demands relate to our consumer customers; we receive relatively few demands regarding our enterprise customers. We do not release customer information unless authorized by law, such as a valid law enforcement demand or an appropriate request in an emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury.
The total number and types of demands we receive continues to be fairly stable as compared to prior six-month periods. We have generally been seeing an increase in the number of Warrants and a decrease in the number of Orders. That is due in part to the Supreme Court requiring law enforcement to show probable cause to obtain location information. And, instead of automatically classifying any legal process to provision a Pen Register, Trap and Trace or Wiretap as an Order, if the legal process is captioned as a Warrant, we now classify such process as a Warrant (instead of an Order). In addition, we have moved to a new system for tracking legal process, which we believe will help us report with more accuracy. For instance, we now have a better method for excluding duplicates. We also discovered that in prior reports we errantly double counted some types of orders.
Law Enforcement Demands for Customer Data — United States
|1H 2017||2H 2017||1H 2018||2H 2018||1H2019||2H2019||1H2020|
|Pen Register/ Trap & Trace Orders||3,241||3,383||3,787||3,163||3,753||3,866||3721|
|Emergency Requests From Law Enforcement||27,478||28,125||31,239||33,001||30,365||33,518||34,868|
We also received National Security Letters and FISA Orders; we address them in a separate table at the bottom of this Transparency Report.
Verizon has teams that carefully review each demand we receive. We do not produce information in response to all demands we receive. In the first half of 2020 we rejected three percent of the demands we received; that is, we rejected about three percent of the subpoenas we received and about five percent of the warrants and orders we received. We might reject a demand as legally invalid for a number of reasons, including that a different type of legal process is needed for the type of information requested. When we reject a demand as invalid, we do not produce any information.
There are a number of additional reasons why we might not produce some or all of the information sought by a demand, although we do not consider these “rejected” demands and do not calculate the number of times these occur. We often receive demands seeking information about a phone number serviced by a different provider. And, we regularly receive demands seeking data that we do not have—perhaps the data sought were of a type we have no need to collect or were older than our retention period. Moreover, if a demand is overly broad, we will not produce any information, or will seek to narrow the scope of the demand and produce only a subset of the information sought. Additionally, it is not uncommon for us to receive legal process and in response produce some information, but not other information. For instance, we may receive a subpoena that properly seeks subscriber information, but also improperly seeks other information, such as stored content, which we cannot provide in response to a subpoena; while we would provide the subscriber information (and thus would not consider this a rejected demand), we would not provide the other information. We include all demands we receive in our table above, whether we provided data in response or not.
The figures in this Report include demands for customer data regarding our Verizon wireline services, such as phone, Internet or television, and our Verizon Wireless services and telematics services. This report does not include statistics for Verizon Media Group, which will issue a separate transparency report. Verizon Media Group includes AOL Inc., which Verizon acquired in June 2015, and Yahoo!, which Verizon acquired in June 2017.
In some instances, federal and most state laws authorize providers to charge a reimbursement fee for responding to law enforcement demands for records or to recoup reasonable expenses in complying with a wiretap order or pen register or trap and trace order. In the majority of instances, however, we do not seek reimbursement for responding to law enforcement requests. We do not charge for responding to emergency requests and do not charge for responding to most subpoenas. When we do charge a reimbursement fee, our fees are permitted by law or court order and seek to recoup only some of our costs.
Yes, we do. Requests in civil cases comprise a small percentage of the total requests we receive. This report focuses on requests from law enforcement.
Yes, on a semi-annual basis.
Federal law already places substantial reporting requirements on federal and state governments.
Each year the United States Attorney General and the principal prosecuting attorney for each state have to report the number of applications for wiretap orders, the number of orders granted, the types of communications intercepted, the number of persons whose communications were intercepted and the numbers of arrests and convictions resulting from such interceptions. That information is summarized for Congress. See 18 U.S.C. § 2519(2),(3). Similarly, the Attorney General must make detailed annual reports to Congress on the number of pen registers and trap and trace orders. See 18 U.S.C. § 3126.
The Attorney General also has to report to Congress each year regarding information obtained in emergencies, in some contexts. See 18 U.S.C. § 2702(d). And the Director of the FBI has to report twice each year to Congress regarding the number of National Security Letters issued. See 18 U.S.C. § 2709(e).
We received 66,773 subpoenas from law enforcement in the United States in the first half of 2020. We are required by law to provide the information requested in a valid subpoena. The subpoenas we receive are generally used by law enforcement to obtain subscriber information or the type of information that appears on a customer’s phone bill. We continue to see that approximately half of the subpoenas we receive seek only subscriber information: that is, those subpoenas typically require us to provide the name and address of a customer assigned a given phone number or IP address. Other subpoenas also ask for certain transactional information, such as phone numbers that a customer called. The types of information we can provide in response to a subpoena are limited by law. We do not release contents of communications (such as text messages or emails) or cell site location information in response to subpoenas.
In the first half of 2020, the 66,773 subpoenas we received sought information regarding 136,649 information points, such as a telephone number, used to identify a customer. These customer identifiers are also referred to as “selectors.” On average, each subpoena sought information about 2.0 selectors. The number of selectors is usually greater than the number of customer accounts: if a customer had multiple telephone numbers, for instance, it’s possible that a subpoena seeking information about multiple selectors was actually seeking information about just one customer. We have also determined that during the first half of 2020, approximately 70 percent of the subpoenas we received sought information on only one selector (and thus only one customer), and about 90 percent sought information regarding three or fewer selectors (and thus three or fewer customers).
Under federal law and the law in many states the government does not need judicial approval to issue a subpoena. A prosecutor or law enforcement official may issue a subpoena to seek evidence relevant to the investigation of a possible crime.
Yes, in response to a subpoena, we only release the six types of information specifically identified in section 2703(c)(2)(A)-(F) of Title 18 of the United States Code: customer name, address, telephone or other subscriber number, length of service, calling records and payment records. Some states have stricter rules. We do not release any content of a communication in response to a subpoena.
Yes, we may receive three different types of subpoenas from law enforcement: a grand jury subpoena (the subpoena is issued in the name of a grand jury investigating a potential crime); an administrative subpoena (generally, a federal or state law authorizes a law enforcement agency to issue a subpoena); or a trial subpoena (the subpoena is issued in the name of the court in anticipation of a trial or hearing).
A court order must be signed by a judge, indicating that the law enforcement officer has made the requisite showing required under the law. An order compels us to provide some type of information to the government. We do not provide law enforcement any content (such as text messages or email) in response to an order.
General Orders. Most of the orders we received in the first half of 2020—5,760—were “general orders.” We use the term “general order” to refer to an order other than legal process asking us to provision a wiretap, pen register or trap and trace, or a warrant. We continue to see that many of these general orders require us to release the same types of basic information that could also be released pursuant to a subpoena.
“Pen/Traps” and Wiretaps. We received 4,333 demands in the first half of 2020 requiring us to provide access to data in real-time. These are commonly referred to as pen register orders, trap and trace orders or wiretap orders, although, as noted above, an increasing number of them are now being captioned as warrants. A pen register order requires us to provide law enforcement with real-time access to phone numbers as they are dialed, while a trap and trace order compels us to provide law enforcement with real-time access to the phone numbers from incoming calls.
We received 3,721 court orders to assist with pen registers or trap and traces in the firs half of 2020, although generally a single demand is for both a pen register and trap and trace. Far less frequently, we are required to assist with wiretaps, where law enforcement accesses the content of a communication as it is taking place. We received 612 wiretap orders in the first half of 2020.
Pen register or trap and trace orders require a wire or electronic communications provider (like Verizon) to afford access to “dialing, routing, addressing or signaling information.” With a pen register order we must afford real-time access to the numbers that a customer dials (or IP addresses that a customer visits); with a trap and trace order we must afford real-time access to the numbers that call a customer. Such orders do not authorize law enforcement to obtain the contents of any communication.
A wiretap order is an order that requires a wire or electronic communications provider to provide access to the content of communications in real-time to law enforcement. The order can relate to the content of telephone or Internet communications.
A wiretap order is the most difficult for law enforcement to obtain. Under the law, law enforcement may not obtain a wiretap order unless a judge finds that there is probable cause to believe that an individual is committing one of certain specified offenses and that particular communications concerning that offense will be obtained through the wiretap. A wiretap order is only issued for a specified time.
A general order requires law enforcement to offer specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation. In federal court, such orders are authorized under 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d).
A pen register order or trap and trace order requires law enforcement to make a lesser showing — that the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.
We received 16,818 warrants in the first half of 2020. To obtain a warrant a law enforcement officer must show a judge that there is “probable cause” to believe that the evidence sought is related to a crime. This is a higher standard than the standard for a general order. A warrant may be used to obtain stored content (such as text message content or email content), location information or more basic subscriber or transactional information.
In the first half of 2020, we received a total of 25,266 orders and warrants. They sought data regarding 60,097 information points, such as a telephone number, used to identify a customer. These customer identifiers are also referred to as “selectors.” On average, each order or warrant sought information about 2.4 selectors. The number of selectors is usually greater than the number of customer accounts: if a customer had multiple telephone numbers, for instance, it’s possible that an order or warrant seeking information about multiple selectors was actually seeking information about just one customer. We have also determined that during the first half of 2020, slightly more than 70 percent of the orders and warrants we received sought information on only one selector (and thus only one customer), and almost 90 percent sought information regarding three or fewer selectors (and thus three or fewer customers).
To obtain a warrant a law enforcement officer has to show a judge that there is probable cause to believe that the evidence it seeks is related to a crime and in the specific place to be searched.
“Stored content” refers to communications or other data that our users create and store through our services, such as text messages, email or photographs. We require a warrant before disclosing stored content to law enforcement, absent an emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury. Non-content refers to records we create such as subscriber information that a customer provides at the time she signs-up for our services, and transactional information regarding the customer’s use of our services, such as phone numbers that a customer called.
Content and location information
Content. We are compelled to provide contents of communications to law enforcement relatively infrequently. Under the law, law enforcement may seek communications or other content that a customer may store through our services, such as text messages or email. Verizon only releases such stored content to law enforcement with a probable cause warrant; we do not produce stored content in response to a general order or subpoena. During the first half of 2020, we received 9,260 warrants for stored content.
Location information. In the first half of 2020, we received 14,936 warrants based on probable cause for location data. In addition, we received 1,611 warrants or court orders for “cell tower dumps” in the first half of 2020. In order to try to identify a suspect of a crime, the government may apply to a court for a warrant or order compelling us to provide a “dump” of the phone numbers of all devices that connected to a specific cell tower or site during a given period of time.
Law enforcement requests information from Verizon that is needed to help resolve serious emergencies. We are authorized by federal law to provide the requested information in such emergencies and we have an established process to respond to emergency requests, in accordance with the law. To request data during these emergencies, a law enforcement officer must certify in writing that there was an emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury to a person that required disclosure without delay. These emergency requests are made in response to active violent crimes, bomb threats, hostage situations, kidnappings and fugitive scenarios, often presenting life-threatening situations. In addition, many emergency requests are in search and rescue settings or when law enforcement is trying to locate a missing child or elderly person.
We also receive emergency requests for information from Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) regarding particular 9-1-1 calls from the public. Calls for emergency services, such as police, fire or ambulance, are answered in call centers, or PSAPs, throughout the country. PSAPs receive tens of millions of calls from 9-1-1 callers each year, and certain information about the calls (name and address for wireline callers; phone numbers and available location information for wireless callers) is typically made available to the PSAP when a 9-1-1 call is made. Yet a small percentage of the time PSAP officials need to contact the telecom provider to get information that was not automatically communicated by virtue of the 9-1-1 call or by the 9-1-1 caller.
In the first half of 2020, we received 34,868 emergency requests for information from law enforcement in emergency matters involving the danger of death or serious physical injury. We also received 12,357 emergency requests from PSAPs related to particular 9-1-1 calls from the public for emergency services during that same period.
National security demands
The table below sets forth the number of national security demands we received in the applicable period. Under section 603 of the USA Freedom Act we are now able to report the number of demands in bands of 500.
|Jan 1, 2017–
Jun. 30, 2017
|July 1, 2017–Dec. 31, 2017||Jan 1, 2018–
Jun. 30, 2018
|Jul. 1, 2018–
Dec. 31, 2018
|Jan 1, 2019–
Jun. 30, 2019
|June 30, 2019 –Dec. 31 2019||Jan. 1, 2020 – Jun. 30, 2020|
* The government has imposed a six month delay for reporting this data.
National Security Letters
In the first half of 2020, we received between 0 and 499 NSLs from the FBI. Those NSLs sought information regarding between 1000 and 1499 “selectors” used to identify a Verizon customer. (The government uses the term “customer selector” to refer to an identifier, most often a phone number, which specifies a customer. The number of selectors is generally greater than the number of “customer accounts.” An NSL might ask for the names associated with two different telephone numbers; even if both phone numbers were assigned to the same customer account, we would count them as two selectors.)
The FBI may seek only limited categories of information through an NSL: name, address, length of service and toll billing records. Verizon does not release any other information in response to an NSL, such as content or location information.
National Security Letters typically prohibit a recipient, such as Verizon, from disclosing to any other person that an NSL was received or that the recipient provided information in response to it. Until recently, such non-disclosure requirements applied indefinitely. The USA Freedom Act, however, required the FBI to periodically review if each NSL recipient could be relieved of the non-disclosure requirements. To that end, we have recently received a letter from the FBI advising that the non-disclosure requirement of an NSL received in March 2014 is no longer applicable.
We therefore can now disclose that we complied with that NSL by providing the name, address, dates of service and/or toll billing records, as authorized by the relevant statute. The NSL sought information regarding one customer selector.
A National Security Letter, or NSL, is a request for information in national security matters; it cannot be used in ordinary criminal, civil or administrative matters. When the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation issues a National Security Letter to a wire or electronic communications provider (like Verizon) such a provider must comply. The law that authorizes the FBI to issue NSLs also requires the Director of the FBI to report to Congress regarding NSL requests.
The FBI does not need to go to court to issue an NSL. Rather, the Director of the FBI or a senior designee must certify in writing that the information sought is relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such an investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
The FBI may seek only limited categories of information through an NSL: name, address, length of service and toll billing records. The FBI cannot obtain other information from Verizon, such as content or location information, through an NSL.
The government requires that we delay the report of any orders issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for six months. Thus, at this time, the most recent FISA information we may report is for the second half of 2019.
From July 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019, we received between 0 and 499 FISA orders for content. Those orders targeted between 1,000 and 1,499 “customer selectors” used to identify a Verizon customer.
From July 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019, we received between 0 and 499 reportable FISA orders for non-content. Some FISA orders that seek content also seek non-content; we counted those as FISA orders for content and to avoid double counting have not also counted them as FISA orders for non-content. Those orders targeted between 0 and 499 “customer selectors.”
A FISA order is an order issued by a judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This Court was created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (commonly known as “FISA”). The FISA court considers requests by government agencies like the FBI or NSA to collect or conduct intelligence in the United States. The FISA court can issue an order compelling a private party, like Verizon, to produce intelligence information to the government.
A FISA order for content is an order that compels a service provider to give the government the content of certain communications carried on the provider’s networks. A FISA order for content could compel the provider to intercept voice communications or provide the government with stored content. For example, the government could seek a FISA electronic surveillance order (pursuant to 50 U.S.C. §1805 or §1881a) or search order (pursuant to 50 U.S.C. §1824) from the FISA court to compel content from a provider.
A FISA order for non-content is an order that compels a service provider to produce call detail records or similar “transactional” information about communications carried on the provider’s networks, but does not require the provider to produce any content. A FISA pen register or trap and trace order and a so-called section “215 order” are FISA orders for non-content. For example, the government could seek a FISA pen register or trap and trace order (pursuant to 50 U.S.C. §1842) from the FISA court to compel a provider to produce routing information. The government may seek a section 215 order (pursuant to 50 U.S.C. §1861) to obtain the types of information obtained through a grand jury subpoena or a court order.