Amazon now an open book on search warrants and subpoenas

Amazon has published its first transparency report

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Amazon.com published its first transparency report describing how it has responded to requests from law enforcers for information about its customers.

The company fielded 813 subpoenas, 25 search warrants, 13 court orders and fewer than 250 national security requests from U.S. authorities. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act prohibits Amazon from disclosing exactly how many National Security letters and FISA court orders it has received: The number may have been zero.

Despite its reluctance to release the information -- companies such as Apple and Google are well ahead of it -- Amazon says it is no lackey of the state security apparatus.

"Amazon never participated in the NSA's Prism program," Amazon Web Services Chief Information Security Officer Steven Schmidt wrote in a blog post announcing the bi-annual report, which covers the five-month period from Jan. 1 to May 31.

Amazon hasn't scored highly in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Who has your back?" report on how companies protect customer data from government requests. It will gain a point for publishing its transparency report, but that may not be all it scores for keeping its customers informed.

In the past, the EFF has marked down the company for not promising to tell customers about government data demands, but in his blog posting Schmidt wrote: "Unless prohibited from doing so or there is clear indication of illegal conduct in connection with the use of Amazon products or services, Amazon notifies customers before disclosing content information."

That statement still leaves the company some wiggle room to disclose non-content information, such as customer identity or usage patterns, without prior warning.

In its report, Amazon categorized its responses to the requests as either full, providing all the information requested by a valid legal process; partial, providing only some of the information legally requested, or no response.

Authorities drew a blank with 145 of the 813 subpoenas and only obtained a partial response in 126 cases, but the majority, 542, received a full response.

Barely half of the search warrants, 13 of 25, got a full response, with eight more receiving a partial response.

Court orders were even less productive: four of 13 got a full response, and five a partial response.

Amazon was more forthcoming in reply to requests from authorities outside the U.S., giving a full response to 108 of the 132 requests, a partial response to seven and no response to 17.

Peter Sayer covers general technology breaking news for IDG News Service, with a special interest in open source software and related European intellectual property legislation. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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