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Verizon Opens Up About Government Surveillance

(CN) - Verizon received hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement demands for customer data in 2013, according to its first public transparency report, which emphasizes the infrequency of requests for emails, texts and other customer content.

In response to public's surveillance concerns, Verizon released its first transparency report Wednesday, detailing the number of requests for customer information from federal, state or local law enforcement in the United States and abroad.

Verizon was served with 164,184 subpoenas last year, more than half of which only asked for the name and address of a customer at a given phone number or IP address, according to the report.

The company cannot legally release the contents of communications, such as text messages, emails or cell-site-location information, in response to a subpoena.

Of the 70,000 court orders it received, approximately 7,800 required Verizon to provide law enforcement with real-time access to phone numbers for dialed or incoming calls. Verizon responded to 1,500 wiretap orders in 2013.

It also received 36,000 warrants, which requires probable cause to obtain, a higher standard than that required for an order.

"While many warrants seek the same types of information that can also be obtained through a general order or subpoena, most warrants we received in 2013 sought stored content or location information," the report states.

Warrants seeking stored content - as in text messages or emails - numbered 14,500.

Verizon emphasized, however, that the percentage of requests seeking all of the company's data on any one customer are low.

"Taken together, the number of orders for stored content and to wiretap content in real-time accounted for only about five percent of the total number of demands we received in 2013," the company said.

Requests for location information are nevertheless increasing every year, it added. In 2013, it received 24,000 orders and 11,000 warrants requesting cell-tower location data.

Law enforcement may also bypass the formal request process in an emergency, so long as an officer certifies in writing that death or serious physical harm may occur without Verizon's immediate disclosure.

"These emergency requests are made in response to active violent crimes, bomb threats, hostage situations, kidnappings and fugitive scenarios, often presenting life-threatening situations," the report states. "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."

Of the 85,116 emergency requests in 2013, about half were related to 911 calls, Verizon said.

Verizon also acknowledged receiving between 1,000 and 2,000 National Security Letters last year, but it is not permitted the disclose the exact number received.

The company also divulged that it responded to a number of international requests for information. Germany made by far the most requests of a foreign nation at 2,996, followed by France at 1,347.

"In 2013, we did not receive any demands from the United States government for data stored in other countries," the report says.

In a blog post , Verizon general counsel Randal Milch called on the government to expand its transparency efforts, following Verizon's example.

"While Verizon and several other companies have decided to provide data on requests from law enforcement, these efforts still provide an incomplete picture of government action, given the vast number of telecommunications and internet companies around the world that are not publicly reporting this information," Milch wrote. "The only truly comprehensive and uniform data set is in the hands of the governments themselves, and we call on all governments to make public the number of demands they make for customer data from telecommunications and Internet companies."

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