Verizon Responds to Domestic Spying Report
One well-informed estimate suggests 100,000 people are employed at the National Security Agency., Photograph: The Guardian / Terry Ashe/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Verizon Communications has responded to an explosive report that outlines the telecommunications giant's role in an ongoing domestic spying program. The response, in a memo to employees, seems aimed at containing a public relations disaster. The wording, however, has to adhere to restrictions, imposed on Verizon by the secret court, not to disclose that the company was ordered to hand over phone logs to the FBI and the National Security Agency.
As revealed Wednesday night by the website of the British newspaper The Guardian, a "Top Secret" order from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced Verizon to provide telephone "metadata" - records of millions of phone calls made within the U.S. and between the U.S. and foreign countries, though not the actual phone conversations.
The order also declared that "no person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI or NSA has sought or obtained tangible things under this order." "Tangible things" refers to the metadata.
But the order says nothing about talking about a newspaper article that describes it, or referring to a copy of the order posted on a newspaper website. That provides General Counsel Randy Milch with an opening to talk about the program.
The memo begins:
You may have seen stories in the news about a top secret order Verizon allegedly received to produce certain calling information to the U.S. government.It concludes by reminding employees - and millions of customers - that the company did not want to spy on them:Verizon continually takes steps to safeguard its customers' privacy. Nevertheless, the law authorizes the federal courts to order a company to provide information in certain circumstances, and if Verizon were to receive such an order, we would be required to comply.
A Verizon spokesman declined to comment on the memo, which was first cited by the Wall Street Journal, and is now posted on Verizon's website.
Here it is in full:
You may have seen stories in the news about a top secret order Verizon allegedly received to produce certain calling information to the U.S. government. We have no comment on the accuracy of The Guardian newspaper story or the documents referenced, but a few items in these stories are important. The alleged court order that The Guardian published on its website contains language that:
- compels Verizon to respond;
- forbids Verizon from revealing the order's existence;
- excludes from production the "content of any communication . . or the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer."Verizon continually takes steps to safeguard its customers' privacy. Nevertheless, the law authorizes the federal courts to order a company to provide information in certain circumstances, and if Verizon were to receive such an order, we would be required to comply.