Access applauds Verizon decision to break ranks in favor of transparency

Access welcomes today’s news that Verizon Communications has broken ranks with telcos globally by announcing that it will issue a transparency report. It will be the first telco to do so.

According to a press release, early next year the company will begin to release ongoing reports on its assistance to law enforcement, disclosing the number of government requests for user data that it receives in the U.S. and globally.

Access has repeatedly urged telcos, including Verizon, as well as governments to release this data regularly. Transparency is the first step toward accountability, for companies and governments alike, and provides an important check on government abuses.

We call on Verizon to employ best practices in transparency reporting: their reports should include the specific number of requests broken down by country, the specific number of accounts or users affected by the requests, the specific authorities making those requests, and the specific statutes under which those requests were made.

Listing the number of accounts affected is crucial, as one request can target millions of account. Verizon knows this well: One single court order from the FISC, as revealed by Edward Snowden earlier this year, required the company to deliver millions of call records on an “ongoing, daily basis” to the NSA.

It is clear that transparency reporting has become a significant public policy issue. Just yesterday, President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies released a report recognizing that transparency reporting by companies provides an important check on government abuses. The Review Group recommended that Congress pass legislation authorizing providers to issue transparency reports.

Other telcos must recognize their obligation to disclose, and stop resisting the continued and growing calls for transparency reporting. Their continued silence impedes efforts to cease and redress the human rights violations enabled by their networks.

Just last month, shareholder proposals were launched ahead of the annual meetings of AT&T and Verizon calling for semi-annual transparency reports. Verizon answered that call today. However, others have resisted: AT&T went so far as to ask the Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to ignore its shareholder’s proposal. At the time of filing the New York State Common Retirement Fund, an AT&T shareholder with US $160.7 billion in assets, stated that the company’s silence “presents significant risk to shareholder value.”

The public interest and economic incentives are clear. Access calls on all telcos to release regular, detailed transparency reports. Anything less is a failure of their human rights obligations and their investors’ expectations.