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Law enforcement asked for AT&T subscriber data more than 300,000 times

By   /   February 19, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org

U.S. law enforcement agencies sought AT&T subscriber data more than 300,000 times in 2013, the telecom giant revealed for the first time Tuesday.

NSA: U.S. law enforcement agencies sought AT&T subscriber data more than 300,000 times in 2013, the telecom giant revealed for the first time Tuesday.

In a newly published government transparency report, AT&T revealed U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement agencies requested information about the company’s subscribers 301,816 times in 2013 in criminal and civil litigation demands.

Of those requests, AT&T rejected 17,463 — nearly 6 percent.

Also, 3,756 were rejected or challenged, and 13,707 requests were provided with partial or no data.

The federal government recently eased on up on reporting restrictions surrounding its national security requests.

Companies could choose to report national security requests in two ways: in bands of 1,000 requests; or, in exact numbers up to 250, followed by bands of 250 requests.

AT&T reported that it received between 2,000 and 2,999 National Security Letters from the FBI, which allow the bureau to secretly demand information from service providers.

During the first six months of the year, the nation’s spy court served the company between zero and 999 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court orders.

“Interest in this topic has increased in the last year,” AT&T said in the report.

The company said that it was committed to providing users with “as much transparency and accuracy in this reporting as is possible,” stating that it planned to publish transparency reports twice a year.

“As you might expect, we may make adjustments to our reporting processes and create ways to track forms of demands in the future,” said the company.

Verizon, the nation’s top wireless carrier, also released its own report at the end of January, revealing that U.S. law enforcement agencies requested subscriber data from the company more than 320,000 times in 2013.

Unlike its competitor, however, Verizon did not publish how many requests it fully or even partially rejected, earning it the rebuke of privacy and civil liberties activists.

The reports come in response to shareholder pressures over the fall out from the publication of a trove of top-secret documents brought to light eight months before by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The Guardian first published in June 2013 a top-secret court order from the U.S. government that forced Verizon to regularly hand over its domestic phone records to the NSA for terrorism and foreign intelligence investigations.

The demands, according to privacy activists, compromised the civil liberties of millions of Americans.

U.S. Internet companies — including Google, Microsoft and Twitter — have also been publishing regular government transparency reports.

The reports are, in part, a way to fight back against allegations that the companies have willingly collaborated with the U.S. government’s surveillance activities.

The Snowden documents thrust U.S. and Western phone and Internet surveillance activities into the national and international spotlight, igniting a firestorm with heavy implications over the future of Internet privacy, government intelligence gathering and journalism around the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, responding to political pressure, announced Saturday that she would talk with French President Francois Hollande about developing a European Internet that would bypass the U.S. to avoid NSA surveillance.

Contact Josh Peterson at [email protected] Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson


Josh Peterson is a writer and award-winning reporter focusing on technology, politics, culture, and national security. His current areas of interest include Internet governance, intellectual property, civil liberties, space, minority issues, climate and the environment, surveillance, cybersecurity, energy, and artificial intelligence. A contributor to Watchdog.org, he is currently a Robert Novak Journalism Program Fellow and previously served as Watchdog.org's national technology reporter and the Daily Caller's tech editor.