Verizon releases new transparency report, reveals location data requests

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We're growing accustomed to companies releasing transparency reports -- all seem to want to get in on the action and make themselves look good for the public. The latest report rolls out of US mobile carrier Verizon, and reveals the usual amount of troubling data requests. The most prominent being for customer location data.

Unlike some reports, the carrier provides actual numbers, as opposed to estimates. We see that the company received 72,342 subpoenas in the first half of 2014 (a number that is actually down compared to the second half of 2013), and 14,977 warrants. As for other requests, we only get estimates there -- for instance between zero and 999 national security requests were received.

"In the first half of this year, we received almost 15,950 demands for location data: about two-thirds of those were through orders and one-third were through warrants. In addition, we received approximately 2,000 warrants or court orders for 'cell tower dumps' last year. In such instances, the warrant or court order compelled us to identify the phone numbers of all phones that connected to a specific cell tower during a given period of time", the report claims.

Location requests may be the most troubling aspect for many customers -- knowing the government is tracking your movements. "Verizon only produces location information in response to a warrant or order; we do not produce location information in response to a subpoena. The laws in some areas of the country require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to get location information, but the laws in other areas permit law enforcement to obtain a court order. In either scenario, the demand we receive for location information is approved by a judge", the report states.

While we can't fault companies for releasing these letters, it's hard not to think each is doing so simply to put a good public face on what is going on in the background. We may never know the truth of all of this, and FISA prevents much of the information from being released.

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