Verizon publishes number of spy court orders


By Josh Peterson |

Verizon updated its transparency report Monday to include orders issued by the nation’s spy court.

SPY COURT: Following the Justice Department’s announcement regarding new allowances for national security transparency reporting, Verizon updated its biannual report to reveal data about the number of court orders it has received from the nation’s spy court.

During the first six months of 2013, the nation’s spy court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ordered Verizon between zero to 999 times to hand over content for 4,000 to 4,999 customer selectors.

During that same time, the court issued the company between zero to 999 “non-content” orders to hand over information affecting zero to 999 customer selectors.

Verizon notes in its report the government uses the term “selector” to refer to account identifiers, such as phone numbers.

Because several selectors belong to a single account, the company said, the number of selectors requested is “generally greater than” the number of accounts directly affected by the court order.

The federal government allows companies to report its requests two ways — in bands of 1,000 requests, or more accurate numbers up to 250 requests, and then in bands of 250 requests.

Companies are required to delay public reports on national security requests six months.

Randal Milch, Verizon’s general counsel and executive vice president for Public Policy, Law and Security, stated on the company’s public policy blog that Verizon updated the report because the Department of Justice recently began allowing telecommunications and Internet company’s to publish more information after Verizon’s initial report was published.

“We note that while we now are able to provide more information about national security orders that directly relate to our customers, reporting on other matters, such as any orders we may have received related to the bulk collection of non-content information, remains prohibited,” Milch said.

“We welcome greater transparency in this area by telecommunications and internet companies, in the absence of broader information by the government collecting the data,” he said.

“We once again call on all governments to make public the number of demands they make for customer data from such companies, because that is the only way to provide the public with an accurate data set.”

Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, praised Verizon’s report.

The company, he said via Twitter, was now tied with Google for “reporting the most granular (and) clearly-defined categories of requests.”

Google’s own transparency report keeps track of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders issued by the court dating to January 2009.

AT&T reported its own dataset in February, revealing that during the first six months of 2013 the company received between zero to 999 FISA court orders for content belonging to 35,000 to 35,999 customer accounts.

During that same time, zero to 999 FISA court orders not pertaining to content were delivered to the company, affecting zero to 999 customer accounts.

The reports were published in response to domestic and international public outrage, and shareholder pressure, over revelations about the alleged companies’ roles in Western electronic intelligence operations.

Contact Josh Peterson at Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson

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