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Verizon publishes first transparency report, reveals 320,000 total law enforcement requests

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Verizon Wireless store (STOCK)
Verizon Wireless store (STOCK)

As promised, Verizon has released a tally of the requests it receives from law enforcement at all levels, counting a total of 321,545 requests for customer subscription information, phone numbers, or content like text messages and emails. These requests are split between court orders, warrants, and emergency requests, each of which dictates how much personal information Verizon will release. What the report can't include is information on most national security orders issued by the NSA or other intelligence agencies — including the one that compels Verizon to turn over all phone records for storage in a government database.

By far the most common category is subpoenas, which can provide police or federal agents with metadata and customer information; Verizon says that more than half of that number request only the name and address behind an IP address or phone number. Of the roughly 70,600 additional court orders received during the same period, Verizon says 63,000 asked for the same information as subpoenas, while 6,300 requested traces on phone lines and 1,500 involved actually tapping phones. A further 36,000 warrants were issued, which Verizon says asked for location information and content that customers stored through the company's email or phone services.

Verizon received between 1,000 and 2,000 national security letters

Verizon disclosed these requests after coming under scrutiny for releasing information to the NSA, but the most it releases about the far less transparent US anti-terrorism and anti-espionage orders is the number of national security letters it receives. These controversial orders, usually issued by the FBI and staunchly defended by the White House, can only be described in ranges of a thousand, so we've now learned that Verizon received somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 requests in 2013, as well as what it will disclose after receiving them: name, address, length of service and toll billing records. As part of Obama's promised policy reforms, companies are supposed to be able to give more information about these orders except if it would seriously hurt an investigation, but there's no telling when that will happen. Likewise, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that companies and the intelligence community will eventually be able to give estimates of more national security requests.

Verizon previously said that the requests it's received has doubled in the past five years, and AT&T and T-Mobile revealed that they'd received a total of 600,000 data requests in 2012. AT&T has promised to publish its own more specific transparency report, but we're still waiting for it to follow Verizon's lead.