AT&T to release transparency report

AT&T announced Friday that it will begin publishing transparency reports, including information about government requests for customer data.

The first report will be published early next year and subsequent reports will semi-annually, the company said in its announcement.

AT&T and Verizon — the country’s largest telecom companies — came under scrutiny earlier this year when leaked documents revealed that the U.S. government was collecting information about virtually all American phone calls with the companies’ cooperation. 

On Thursday, Verizon announced that it would be releasing semi-annual transparency reports, making it the first telecom company to do so.

The report is part of the company’s “efforts to be as transparent as possible within the government guidelines in which we operate,” AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Wayne Watts said in a statement.

Watts said that AT&T challenges what it perceives to be invalid requests for customer data and does “not allow any government agency to connect directly to our network to gather, review or retrieve our customers' information.”

The transparency report will include the total number of law enforcement requests for customer data, the number of accounts affected by those accounts and a breakdown of requests by type, including subpoenas, court orders and warrants.

The U.S. government heavily restricts the type of information companies can publish regarding national security-related requests for user data. 

“In our view, any disclosures regarding classified information should come from the government, which is in the best position to determine what can be lawfully disclosed and would or would not harm national security,” Watts said.

“We believe clear legal frameworks with accountability and oversight are required to strike the right balance between protecting individual privacy and civil liberties, and protecting the national and personal security, a balance we all desire.”

Privacy and civil liberties groups applauded the announcements from Verizon and AT&T, commending the companies for following in the footsteps of Internet companies like Google and urging them to do more to increase transparency around government surveillance.