Issues Main Topic Privacy Transparency

Verizon’s Take on NSA Surveillance

Over the past few months, several Tech companies have issued strong condemnations of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. This is a good first step, and I applaud those companies for taking it. However, there’s one industry group that’s been noticeably silent on this issue: the telco companies. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T — the folks who are handing your call detail records to the NSA — they’ve issued little in the way of public positions, and even less in the way of condemnations.

My phone service is provided by Verizon, so I sent them a letter, asking what their position was.

December 14, 2013

PO Box 11328
St Petersburg, FL 33733

Dear Verizon,

Earlier this year, the Guardian published a copy of a national security letter, which compelled Verizon to produce

all call detail records or “telephony metadata” created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.

I understand that this was a legal order, and that Verizon was compelled to produce the records requested. Beyond the requirement for compliance, I would like to know something about Verizon’s position on the NSA’s surveillance programs.

More specifically, since we’ve learned about the NSA’s surveillance programs, technology companies such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! have been openly critical of them, and I applaud these companies for having the courage to make public condemnations. However, I’ve heard no condemnation from Verizon, and this concerns me.

I’ve been a Verizon customer for several years, and as such, I’d like some assurance that Verizon has my best interests in mind. I would feel better if my ISP took a public position on the NSA’s surveillance programs, and I’d feel better still if my ISP was willing to challenge their legality.

So, what is your position on NSA surveillance, and compelled disclosure of telephony metadata?

Thanks for your time and attention.

I received Verizon’s response a few days ago. Here’s what they had to say

January 7, 2014

Verizon has been following this issue closely, including the current court cases. As you note, federal law authorizes the courts to order a company to provide information in certain circumstances and as stated in Verizon’s Privacy Policy if Verizon were to receive such an order we would be required to comply. We are monitoring any court cases relevant to this issue, and will of course conform to any orders that may come from those cases.

Finally, shortly after you sent your letter Verizon announced that it will issue a transparency report soon that will show the number of legal demands we receive from law enforcement for customer information. We encourage you to review our report after it is released.


Verizon Privacy Office
Arlington, VA

As of this writing, Verizon has yet to publish their transparency report, but I think it’s great that they’re made a pledge to do so. I’d like to see transparency reports from all of the telecommunications companies.

Unfortunately, Verizon’s response lacked the one thing I was hoping to see: a clear position. Yes, they are monitoring the situation. Yes, they are complying with court orders, as required by law. But beyond that, Verizon seems fine with the the laws themselves.

According to Open Secrets, Verizon spent $9,980,000 on lobbying in 2013, and $15,020,000 on lobbying in 2012. Surely, with that kind of political budget, Verizon could push back against Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and other laws that permit mass surveillance by the Federal Government. So why isn’t Verizon pushing back?

Are you a Verizon customer, who’s opposed to their willingness to speak out against mass surveillance? Write them a letter, and let them know how you feel.

P.S. – Feel free to take pieces of what I’ve written. After all, we’re Pirates, and Pirates believe in sharing.

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