Verizon: U.S. can’t get data stored abroad

The U.S. government cannot force Verizon to turn over user data stored in foreign countries, the company said in a blog post Monday.

Last week, the company released its first Transparency Report, outlining the over 300,000 requests for user data the U.S. government issued to Verizon in 2013.

The Transparency Report and Monday’s blog post come as the company faces scrutiny for participating in U.S. government surveillance programs, including one that collects information about virtually all American phone calls.

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After reports of sweeping U.S. surveillance capabilities, some foreign lawmakers have called for rules that would keep American tech companies from processing data belonging to European citizens. 

“There are persistent myths and questions about the U.S. government’s ability to access customer data stored in cloud servers outside the U.S.,” Verizon Executive Vice President of Public Policy Randal Milch wrote.

The government can’t access foreign-stored data through any of the surveillance authorities often cited by reports — including the foreign intelligence authorities that allow for the collection of phone call data or electronic communications — Milch said.

“We do not believe the U.S. government may lawfully demand that Verizon turn over customer data stored in data centers outside the U.S., and if it were to do so, we would oppose the request in court.”

Milch pointed to “mutual legal assistance treaties” — which allow the U.S. government to request assistance from other governments — as a way for the U.S. government to access data stored abroad by American companies.

In highlighting the role of international cooperation, including through these treaties, Verizon joins major players in the tech industry. 

Last year, eight companies — including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter — called on governments to work together when data privacy laws conflict.

“In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions,” the companies said, pointing to the mutual legal assistance treaties.

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