Investors Withdraw Verizon Shareholder Proposal on Government Surveillance Programs

A coalition of investors, which had requested that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) publish regular reports on government and law enforcement requests for confidential customer data, today commended the company for publishing its first report and made recommendations for improving future reports.

The coalition was led by Trillium Asset Management (Trillium), which filed a shareholder resolution on behalf of Park Foundation, in close partnership with Open MIC, a non-profit organization that works to foster more open and democratic media.

The investors’ announcement follows yesterday’s news that the Obama Administration will permit more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, and the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests.

“We are gratified that Verizon has embraced the position which shareholders set out in a proposal filed in November - that transparency reports which provide greater clarity about relationships between the company and governments are important steps in rebuilding trust,” said Jonas Kron, Trillium’s Senior Vice President and Director of Shareholder Advocacy.  “Publication of these reports makes strong business sense and will facilitate the critical and long-term conversation about government surveillance programs that is so desperately needed.”

Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC, commended Verizon for reporting information about the types of U.S. government requests it receives, including those in the form of National Security Letters. “We also appreciate that Verizon has articulated support for continuing and robust reporting by all governments of their activities,” Connor said.

Jon Jensen, Executive Director of the Park Foundation, said, “As a shareholder in Verizon, the Foundation appreciates management’s and the Board’s willingness to respond to shareholder concerns on such an important public policy issue.”

The shareholders said that while they would have preferred that Verizon’s initial report provide information regarding the company’s rate of compliance with government requests, they are pleased that the company agreed to do so in the future and has subscribed to the need for this information.

Recommendations for making the Transparency Report more useful for investors include:

  • Information about the number of national security orders and requests the company has received as permitted by the Department of Justice;
  • Information about the number of accounts/users that have been impacted;
  • A meaningful and robust discussion of how Verizon is protecting user privacy rights:
  • Greater detail on the information provided to foreign governments.

“In issuing this report Verizon has taken an important first step and we have accomplished our initial goal of helping to establishing transparency reports as best practice in the telecommunications industry,” said Trillium’s Kron. “The challenge now is for Verizon – and other companies - to publish reports that are substantive and meaningful.”

In view of Verizon’s actions, Kron said, this year’s shareholder proposal regarding Transparency Reports has been withdrawn.

Filers of the Verizon proposal were Trillium Asset Management LLC, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and Park Foundation.