Another direct consequence of Snowden’s revelations is the growing demand for transparency coming from customers as well as from tech companies attempting to regain a better image and trustworthy reputation among customers. At the end of last year, tech Giants Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL and LinkedIn wrote an open letter calling for reforms and regulations on government surveillance. This was a clear gesture to prove that despite the surveillance program those companies were not carelessly handing over their customers’ data to the U.S government; and thus voluntarily taking part in the government surveillance program. No telecommunication companies had signed this open letter or publicly comment on that matter despite an important fact that we remember – the very first company Snowden denounced was Verizon Wireless.
It seems that Telco companies are finally taking action to recover from this bad publicity by publishing their respective transparency report: “To further our efforts to be as transparent as possible within the government guidelines in which we operate, like Verizon recently announced, we (AT&T) intend to publish a semi-annual online report that will provide information on the number of law enforcement requests for customer information that our company receives in the countries in which we do business,” said in a statement Wayne Watts, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel.
On Tuesday 18th February, AT&T released its first transparency report revealing that the company received a total of 301,816 requests for user data in 2013 from Federal, State, Local, Criminal and Civil law enforcement. 248,343 or 80% of those requests came in the form of subpoenas which do not require a court order to be obtained. In those cases, AT&T did not release the content of communications but had to hand over the customers’ names, addresses and phone. 36,788 or about 10% were Court Order requests.
Few days before, Verizon Wireless published their respective transparency report. In 2013, the company received 321,545 requests for customers’ subscription information, phone numbers and sometimes content like text messages and emails. 70,000 court order, 36,696 warrants and approximately 50,000 emergency requests were sent to Verizon.
However, both companies still remains limited in the extent of information they are allowed to make public. Certain information relating to national security are not authorized to be published in the transparency report.