Verizon plans more data-request disclosures

Updated: 2013-12-20 09:47


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Verizon plans more data-request disclosures

Pedestrians use their cell phones as they pass a Verizon Wireless store near Union Square, in New York, June 6, 2013. [Photo/icpress]

Verizon Communications Inc vowed to issue semi-annual reports on government requests for customer data, drawing praise from privacy advocates who sought such changes and marking the latest reform to controversial surveillance practices.

This would be the first time that Verizon will publish such reports that would be easily accessible to shareholders.

New York-based Verizon, the second-largest U.S. telephone company by revenue, announced the move on Thursday following pressure from activist investors concerned about the role of network operators in government spying operations.

Last month, the investors pushed Verizon and AT&T Inc to disclose details on their sharing of customer information with government agencies..

The Verizon move may put pressure on AT&T to follow suit. It also comes a day after a White House-appointed panel proposed curbs on various US National Security Agency operations, including a halt to bulk collection of phone call records.

The reforms draw on revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, including the disclosure of close ties between spy agencies and technology firms. Verizon nodded to the concerns in its statement and called on "governments around the world to provide more information on the types and amounts of data they collect and the legal processes that apply when they do so."

Verizon promised to publish online reports with data on the number of law enforcement requests for customer information it receives in the United States and other countries in which it does business.

It said it would publish its first report early next year with data on 2013 requests. Verizon will update the information twice a year after that to provide more transparency.

Previously, Verizon tended to disclose such data in response to ad hoc requests from legislators rather than broadly publishing the data.

Verizon's move toward greater disclosure follows similar initiatives from tech companies such as Google Inc and Yahoo Inc. Silicon Valley, worried about a customer backlash, has also called for greater transparency around US government requests for user information. Until now, telephone companies like Verizon had been much less outspoken than their technology and Internet counterparts.

A Verizon spokesman, Robert Varettoni, said the company was already making plans for an online transparency report before it received the shareholder requests in November.

Still, advocates including Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, praised Verizon's approach as a way to make disclosures more routine. Markey, a Democrat, had been tracking growing government use of wireless surveillance.

"Verizon is taking an important step toward transparency, and I call on the other wireless carriers to follow its lead and regularly disclose their law enforcement requests for wireless information," Markey said in a statement.


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