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Comcast obeyed over 24,000 government data requests last year

Comcast obeyed over 24,000 government data requests last year


First transparency report details total compliances, not requests

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Comcast Center in Philadelphia
Comcast Center in Philadelphia

Following in the footsteps of tech companies and wireless carriers, Comcast issued its first transparency report today, detailing for how many customer it handed data over to federal, state, and local law enforcement. Collectively, Comcast says that it complied with 24,698 law enforcement requests regarding criminal matters — largely subpoenas, with 93 fulfilled requests for pen registers or traces, and two fulfilled requests for wiretaps. Comcast also breaks down which instances involved handing over communication content — what was said or typed — and which only involved metadata: content was handed over for 253 warrants, while metadata was supplied for 1,080 of them.

Between 0 and 999 national security letters and FISA requests received

Of greater interest is Comcast's receipt of secretive national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act information requests. Like others, Comcast is only permitted to disclose these figures in wide ranges and only on a six-month delay — as such, its first figures only represent the first six months of 2013. Comcast says that it received between 0 and 999 national security letters and 0 and 999 FISA orders. In both cases, between 0 and 999 customer accounts were affected as a result of the requests.

Comcast's national security requests are quite a bit lower than other service providers. Verizon said that it had received between 1,000 and 1,999 national security letters, and AT&T said it had received between 2,000 and 2,999. Though Verizon did not disclose its FISA requests, AT&T said that it received a staggering 35,000 and 35,999 requests — dramatically higher than the under 1,000 that Comcast received. That's likely a matter of AT&T's breadth as a wireless carrier: telephone metadata has been a focal point of FISA requests, and the major difference in figures suggests that traditional cable companies and ISPs may be less of interest.

Critically, the non-national security figures from Comcast also appear significantly lower too, but that's because Comcast is actually detailing a different figure. Rather than disclosing how many total requests it received — as most companies have — Comcast is actually disclosing exactly how many requests it complied with. Though Comcast hasn't been among the major names under fire as a result of the ongoing surveillance leaks, additional companies have begun issuing transparency reports to stay ahead of the unease created by the continued reports. Comcast now intends to issue a transparency report every six months.