United States report
The table below sets out the number of subpoenas, orders, warrants, and emergency requests that we received from federal, state, or local law enforcement in the United States during the second half of 2020. The table presents data for the past three years. Data from prior periods can be found by clicking the “Archive” tab at the top of the page.
The vast majority of these 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 general orders. (We refer to a “general order” as any order other than a pen register, trap and trace, wiretap, or warrant.) That is due in part to the Supreme Court requiring law enforcement to demonstrate probable cause before obtaining location information. We have moved to a new system for tracking legal process, which we believe will help us to report with more accuracy and to avoid the double counting of orders that we believe occurred in prior Transparency Reports
Law Enforcement Demands for Customer Data — United States
|1H 2017||2H 2017||1H 2018||2H 2018||1H 2019||2H 2019||1H 2020||2H 2020|
|Pen Register/ Trap & Trace Orders||3,241||3,383||3,787||3,163||3,753||3,866||3,721||4,492|
|Emergency Requests From Law Enforcement||27,478||28,125||31,239||33,001||30,365||33,518||34,868||37,760|
We also received National Security Letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Orders, which we address 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. During the second half of 2020, we did not release records in response to 11% of the demands we received. Specifically, we did not release records in response to approximately 10% of the subpoenas we received and approximately 13% of the warrants and orders we received. We may decline to release records for a number of reasons. In some instances, including situations when a different type of legal process is needed for the type of information requested, the legal demand is invalid and therefore rejected. Often, we receive valid demands that seek information about a phone number serviced by a different provider, meaning that we have no records to produce. Likewise, we regularly receive demands seeking data that we do not possess. This includes situations where the data sought is of a type that we do not collect or is older than our retention period. (Note, in prior Transparency Reports, we indicated only the percentage of demands that we rejected as invalid. We now report more broadly to include the percentage of demands where no records were released. As explained, there are many reasons why we may not produce records, even when the demand is valid.)
The figures in this Report include demands for customer data regarding our Verizon wireline services, such as phone, Internet or television, our Verizon Wireless services, telematics services and our BlueJeans business. 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 59,264 subpoenas from law enforcement in the United States during the second half of 2020. We are required by law to provide the information requested by a valid subpoena. The subpoenas we receive are generally used by law enforcement to obtain “subscriber information,” meaning 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. Those subpoenas typically require us to provide only the name and address of the customer associated with a given phone number or IP address. Other subpoenas may ask for certain transactional information, such as the phone numbers that a given customer called. The types of information that we can provide in response to a subpoena are limited by law. We do not release the contents of communications (such as text messages or emails) or cell site location information in response to a subpoena.
During the second half of 2020, the 59,264 subpoenas we received sought information regarding 120,264 information points, such as telephone numbers, used to identify customers. These customer identifiers are also known 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. For instance, if a customer had multiple telephone numbers, then it is possible that a subpoena requesting information about multiple selectors was actually seeking information about only one customer. During the second half of 2020, approximately 70% of the subpoenas we received sought information on only one selector (and thus only one customer), and about 90% 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 18 U.S.C. § 2703(c)(2)(A)-(F): 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 and must indicate that the law enforcement officer has made the proper 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 emails) in response to an order.
General Orders. Most of the 4,062 orders we received during the second half of 2020 were “general orders.” We use the term “general order” to refer to any order that is not a wiretap order, a pen register order, a trap and trace order, or a warrant. We continue to see that many of these general orders require us to release the same basic types of information that could also be released pursuant to a subpoena.
“Pen/Traps” and Wiretaps. We received 5,119 demands during the second half of 2020 that required 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 an increasing number of these requests 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 4,492 orders to assist with pen registers or trap and traces during the second half of 2020, although generally a single demand is issued to establish both a pen register and a trap and trace. Far less often, we are required to assist with wiretaps, where law enforcement accesses the content of a communication as it is taking place. We received 627 orders for wiretaps during the second 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 15,061 warrants during the second 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 what is required 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.
During the second half of 2020, we received a total of 19,123 general orders and warrants. They sought data regarding 35,876 information points, such as telephone numbers, used to identify customers. These customer identifiers are also known as “selectors.” On average, each order or warrant sought information about 1.9 selectors. The number of selectors is usually greater than the number of customer accounts. For instance, if a customer had multiple telephone numbers, then it is possible that an order or warrant seeking information about multiple selectors was actually seeking information about only one customer. During the second half of 2020, about 75% of the orders and warrants we received sought information on only one selector (and thus only one customer), and 90% 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, emails, 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. Non-content also includes transactional information regarding the customer’s use of our services, such as the phone numbers that a customer called.
Content and location information
Content. We are compelled to provide the 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 emails. 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 second half of 2020, we received 8,478 warrants for stored content.
Location information. During the second half of 2020, we received 13,678 warrants based on probable cause for location data. In addition, we received 1,469 warrants or court orders for “cell tower dumps” during the second half of 2020. In attempting 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 may request information from Verizon that is needed to help resolve serious emergencies. We are authorized by federal law to provide the requested information during such emergencies, and we have an established process for responding to these emergency requests in accordance with the law. To request data during these emergencies, a law enforcement officer must certify in writing that there is an emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury to a person that requires 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 submitted 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, or 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 may 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.
During the second half of 2020, we received 37,760 emergency requests for information from law enforcement in emergency matters involving the danger of death or serious physical injury. During that same period, we also received 12,792 emergency requests from PSAPs related to particular 9-1-1 calls from the public for emergency services.
National security demands
The table below sets forth the number of national security demands that we received during the applicable period. Under Section 603 of the USA Freedom Act, we are now able to report the number of these demands in bands of 500.
|Jan. 1, 2017–
June 30, 2017
|July 1, 2017–Dec. 31, 2017||Jan. 1, 2018–
June 30, 2018
|July 1, 2018–
Dec. 31, 2018
|Jan. 1, 2019–
June 30, 2019
|June 30, 2019 –Dec. 31, 2019||Jan. 1, 2020-June 30, 2020||July 1, 2020–Dec. 31, 2020|
* The government has imposed a six month delay for reporting this data.
National Security Letters
During the second half of 2020, we received between 0 and 499 NSLs from the FBI. Those NSLs sought information regarding between 1,000 and 1,499 “selectors” used to identify customers. The government uses the term “customer selector” to refer to an identifier (most often a telephone number) that specifies a given customer. The number of selectors is generally greater than the number of “customer accounts.” (If an NSL asked for the names associated with two different telephone numbers, then we would count them as two selectors, even if both phone numbers were assigned to the same customer account.) 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, such as content or location information, in response to an NSL.
NSLs typically prohibit the recipient, such as Verizon, from disclosing to any other person that the NSL was received or that the recipient provided information in response to it. Until recently, these 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 three letters from the FBI advising that the non-disclosure requirement of three NSLs (received in September 2017, October 2019, and November 2019) are no longer applicable.
We therefore can now disclose that we complied with each NSL by providing the name, address, dates of service, and/or toll billing records, as authorized by the relevant statute. The November 2019 NSL sought information regarding four customer selectors; the other two NSLs sought information regarding one selector each.
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), the 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.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Orders
The government requires that we delay reporting our receipt of any orders issued under FISA for six months. Thus, at this time, the most recent FISA information that we may report is for the first half of 2020.
From January 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020, we received between 0 and 499 FISA orders for content. Those orders targeted between 1,000 and 1,499 “customer selectors” used to identify Verizon customers.
From January 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020, 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 it 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.