In-Depth Analysis

Total U.S. Criminal & Civil Demands

This number includes demands to which we responded in connection with criminal and civil litigation matters. This category doesn’t include demands reported in our National Security Demands table.

Criminal proceedings include actions by government entities — whether at the federal, state or local level — against an individual arising from an alleged violation of criminal law. Because federal, state and local investigating authorities in the U.S. may each initiate criminal proceedings, we receive demands from thousands of different law enforcement entities.

Civil actions include lawsuits involving private parties (e.g., a personal liability case, divorce proceeding, or disputes between private companies or individuals). In addition, civil proceedings include investigations by governmental regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

Our Process

We receive multiple types of legal demands, including subpoenas, court orders and search warrants. Before we respond to any legal demand, we determine that we have received the correct type of demand based on the applicable law and the type of information sought. For instance, in some states we must supply call detail records if we receive a subpoena. In other states, call detail records require a probable cause court order or search warrant. If the requesting agency has failed to send the correct type of demand, we reject the demand.

Types of Legal Demands

The reporting category “Total U.S. Criminal & Civil Demands” reflects the type of demand with the information requested, particularly relating to General Court Orders and search warrants.

  • Subpoenas don’t usually require the approval of a judge and are issued by an officer of the court, e.g., an attorney. They are used in both criminal and civil cases, typically to demand testimony or written business documents, such as calling records, and basic subscriber information, such as the name and address listed on the billing account.

  • General Court Orders are signed by a judge. We consider “general” court orders to be all orders except those that contain a probable cause finding. In a criminal case, for example, a judge may issue a court order on a lesser standard than probable cause, such as “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.” In criminal cases, court orders are also used to demand real-time, pen register/“trap and trace” information, which provides phone numbers and other dialed information for all calls as they are made or received from the device identified in the order. In a civil case, a court order may be issued on a “relevant” or “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” standard.

    In both the criminal and civil context, general court orders have been used to demand historic information, like billing records or records relating to usage of a wireless device.

  • Search Warrants and Probable Cause Court Orders are signed by a judge, and they are issued only upon a finding of “probable cause.” To be issued, the warrant or order must be supported by sworn testimony and sufficient evidence to believe the information demanded is evidence of a crime. Probable cause is viewed as the highest standard to demand evidence. Except in emergency circumstances, a search warrant or probable cause court order is required for all real-time precise location information (like GPS) and real-time content (such as content obtained through wiretaps). Stored content (like stored text and voice messages) generally also requires a warrant.

Foreign-Originated Demands for Information about a U.S. Consumer or Business

If we receive an international demand for information about a U.S. customer, whether an individual or business, we refer the requester to that country’s Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process. We did not receive any international demands for information about a U.S. customer from a country that does not have an MLAT process. The FBI ensures that we receive the proper form of U.S. process (e.g., subpoena, court order or search warrant), subject to the limitations placed on discovery in the U.S., and that cross-border data flows are handled appropriately. Thus, any international originated demands that follow an MLAT procedure are reported in our Total Demands category because we can’t separate them from any other FBI demand we may receive.

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