Verizon to detail government information requests
Verizon Communications Inc said it would regularly report information on government requests for customer data from now on, following pressure from activist shareholders.
A group of investors, concerned about the role of telephone companies in government spying operations, last month pushed Verizon and AT&T Inc to disclose details on their sharing of customer information with governments.
The Verizon move may put pressure on AT&T to follow suit.
Verizon on Thursday promised to publish online reports with data on the number of law enforcement requests for customer information it has in the United States and other countries in which it does business.
It said it would publish its first report early next year with data on 2013 requests and will update the information twice a year after that to provide more transparency.
Previously, Verizon tended to disclose such data in response to ad hoc requests from legislators rather than broadly publishing the data. This would be the first time it publishes a report that would be easily accessible to shareholders.
In its statement, Verizon also called on "governments around the world to provide more information on the types and amounts of data they collect and the legal processes that apply when they do so."
Technology companies such as Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp, Google Inc and Facebook Inc have already disclosed the number of information requests they received from governments around the world.
They have also said publicly that they would like to provide more information to their customers.
However, telephone operators like Verizon have been much less outspoken than their technology and Internet counterparts in the matter, leading shareholders to propose a vote at the operators' annual meeting to try to force more disclosure.
One of the proxy resolution's backers, Jonas Kron of Trillium Asset Management in Boston, said Verizon's plan looked positive, at least at first glance.
"It appears they've really embraced our concerns," Kron said in a telephone interview.
But he added that the shareholder group had not yet spoken with Verizon about its latest step and would need more time to decide whether or not they would withdraw their request for a vote at Verizon's springtime shareholder meeting.
The decision will hinge on factors such as how much detail Verizon plans to publish about its interactions with law enforcement, he said.
Earlier this month, AT&T asked regulators to let it ignore a similar request from its shareholder. It did not immediately respond to the Verizon announcement on Thursday.
Verizon said in a statement that all companies are required to give information to government agencies in certain circumstances and that its new report was intended to create more transparency.
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