WASHINGTON — Verizon Communications Inc. says it received between 1,000 and 1,999 government requests for customer information related to national security last year.
The largest U.S. cellphone carrier made the disclosure Wednesday in its first report on law-enforcement data requests. Verizon and No. 1 U.S. telecom company AT&T Inc. decided late last year to begin making the information public as debate intensified over the National Security Agency’s collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records under secret court order.
The NSA program was revealed in June in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Verizon plans to update the report twice a year.
The requests, known as national security letters, that Verizon received were in addition to 321,545 demands for customer data last year from U.S. federal and local law-enforcement agencies.
“The past year saw an intense focus around the world on government demands to obtain customer data,” Randal Milch, Verizon’s general counsel and executive vice president for public policy, said in a statement. “We believe this transparency report is a constructive addition to the ongoing conversation about privacy and public safety.”
As part of his new blueprint to overhaul government surveillance programs, President Barack Obama said Friday he wants the bulk telephone data collected by the NSA to be stored outside the government to reduce the risk that the records will be abused. The data would be stored instead with the telephone companies or an outside third party.
Under the surveillance program, the NSA gathers phone numbers called and the length of conversations, but not the content of the calls. Obama said the spy agency sometimes needs to tap the records to find people linked to suspected terrorists. But he said that eventually the bulk data should be stored somewhere out of the government’s hands. Some telephone company executives have privately rejected the idea of taking over custody of the records.
Verizon’s report was the first such accounting to be issued by a U.S. telecommunications company. Several major Internet companies, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo, publish periodic reports disclosing the number of requests they receive from federal agencies and local police departments for personal data, which cover such things as email communications and search queries made.
Major shareholders of Verizon and AT&T demanded in November that the companies disclose their dealings with the NSA.
The Internet companies have sued for the right to share more detailed information about the national-security demands made by the NSA and the FBI. The technology companies are seeking fuller disclosures with an eye to easing privacy concerns raised by the Snowden documents that depicted them as willing participants in a U.S. spying program.