theintercept | Verizon’s general counsel and head of public policy made a public case this week for reconsidering legal protections on customer data in light of evolving technology that allows companies to almost continuously track cell phone users’ location.
Craig Stillman’s opinion piece published Monday in Bloomberg Law comes just days after Reuters revealed that Yahoo, the company Verizon is reportedly buying, helped the U.S. government scan millions of emails for a specific “digital signature,” outraging privacy activists. It also follows several years of controversy since Verizon was implicated in the NSA’s mass surveillance program through the 2013 Snowden disclosures, which revealed the collection of thousands of its customers’ phone records.
The piece describes the legal ins-and-outs of location privacy, including a specific issue courts have been pondering over the last few years: whether or not customers, when they make phone calls or log into apps on their smartphones, are voluntarily handing over to private companies’ information about where they are and what they’re doing — making that information available to law enforcement without a warrant.
After detailing Verizon’s rapidly evolving ability to collect more and more specific location data on its own customers, Silliman urged courts to consider how the law might need to adapt. “I hope that [the court] takes into account how quickly technology — including the volume and precision of location information — is changing,” he wrote.
Verizon says the timing of the piece is unrelated to the recent related to Yahoo and email surveillance. “In fact, the piece was finished several weeks ago. We were preparing to post it when we got news of the Yahoo breach,” wrote Rich Young, Verizon policy spokesman, in an email to The Intercept. “We decided to delay the posting because we did not want the two to appear related, which they are not.”
According to Silliman and Verizon’s official Twitter account, the piece was born out of conversations that took place during company business meetings.