Verizon Communications says it has provided federal, state and local law enforcement agencies tens of thousands of communication and business records relating to customers based on emergency requests without a court order or administrative subpoena.
In an October 12 letter to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, a senior Verizon official says that from 2005 through this September there were 63,700 such requests, and of those, 720 came from federal authorities.
The emergency requests, however, were some of the more surprising data provided. Some of the emergency situations Verizon said it assisted in included locating the Internet address of a child predator who had abducted a 13-year-old girl (who was then found due to that information) and helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents track down a man using a webcam to broadcast the sexual abuse of a 6-year-old boy.
The number of requests is impressive, and indicative of the problem—63,700 requests with no court order or subpoena? That certainly suggests a potential lack of oversight, and a potential privacy problem. On the other hand, the specific stories provided on two requests (almost certainly picked for exactly this reason) shows the difficult balancing problem involved in regulating the potential privacy invasions: who could argue with stopping child predators? Of course, this may simple be a “straw man” argument, since there certainly exists a potential oversight solution that would still succeed in locating such people, while preserving oversight of the process.