Starting early next year, Verizon Communications Inc. will publish semi-annual reports on the number of government requests it receives for customer data, the Washington Post reported. The announcement on Thursday by the biggest U.S. wireless provider and the second-largest U.S. telephone company by revenue sets a considerable precedent for the whole telecom industry, which until now has sought to keep such information private.
The decision by Verizon comes as the debate over data-gathering by the National Security Agency intensifies in Washington, D.C., the Associated Press noted. The NSA's obtainment of hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records was revealed in June in documents that were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Verizon has been under tremendous pressure from privacy groups and shareholders following disclosures that the NSA collected massive amounts of private information from the company and other telecommunication firms, such as AT&T, according to the Washington Post.
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Internet companies like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft already publish transparency reports that reveal how many federal, state and local demands for data they receive. But now, Verizon will become the first telecom company to provide details on U.S. government demands for data.
Verizon will publish its report online early next year and update it twice a year, the company said. The report will give the total number of law-enforcement agency requests that Verizon received in criminal cases, according to the AP.
That data will divided into categories such as subpoenas, court orders and warrants. Verizon will also reveal other details about the requests for customer data. "The aim of our transparency report is to keep our customers informed about government requests for their data and how we respond to those requests," Randal Milch, Verizon's executive vice president for public policy, said in a statement.
Last month, major shareholders of Verizon and AT&T demanded that those telecom companies disclose their NSA dealings, the AP said. Responding in a letter, AT&T told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it is not required to reveal what it does with customer data to shareholders, the AP noted.
When asked about Verizon's announcement Thursday and whether AT&T is considering a similar move, AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said: "While we have disclosed a lot of information in this area, we are always exploring ways to do more."
According to Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, "shareholder and consumer pressure made the difference" in Verizon's decision. "Verizon realized that it needed to break its silence and publish a transparency report. We deserve to know when our information is being handed over to the government, and now it is time for AT&T to break its silence, stop opposing the shareholder proposals and agree to release a transparency report of its own."