Did GCHQ and NSA Lose an Eye Today?

As the business press is crowing, Vodaphone and Verizon are officially divorced.

After pulling off the $130 billion sale, Vodafone will drop from the world’s second-biggest phone company to the fourth, measured by market value, behind China Mobile Ltd., AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), data compiled by Bloomberg showed. Vodafone’s weighting in share indexes such as the FTSE 100 in London will be cut approximately in half.

Shareholders will get a return of about 102 pence ($1.70) per share. That’s about $23.9 billion in cash and about $58.6 billion in Verizon Communications shares.

Vodafone’s shares rose 2.8 percent to 236.10 pence at 2:45 p.m. in London. Verizon slipped 0.3 percent to $47.97 in New York.

“This is a great day for Verizon,” Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said in a statement. “The new Verizon now has full ownership of the U.S. wireless industry leader in network performance, profitability and cash flow.”

The deal will help Vodafone pay off debt and help fund 7 billion pounds of additional network investments by March 2016, adding high-speed broadband and wireless coverage across its largest markets.

And rejoicing was heard on both sides of the Atlantic!

Curiously, though, I seem to be the only one asking what seems to be an obvious question: how will this high level British-US breakup affect the Five Eyes dragnet?

Particularly given reports that Verizon is (was?) one of 7 Tempora providers, I wonder whether splitting with Vodaphone has permitted Verizon to withdraw from compliance with GCHQ data requests.

Back in 2006, USA Today’s report that the NSA had a database of all of AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth’s phone records caused one of the telecoms to refuse to turn over data without being legally obligated (and for a number of reasons, it is unlikely AT&T was the provider that demanded an order).

The publication of the Verizon Secondary Order on June 5, 2013 exposed Verizon far more than that 2006 story. And it exposed Verizon uniquely, in a way AT&T and Sprint hadn’t been exposed. ODNI exacerbated that exposure further when it released another document with Verizon’s name unredacted.

If I were Verizon, I would be doing nothing more than the government(s) legally requred me to do. And as of today, Verizon may have one less government with the ability to make such requirements.

Update: On March 4, Verizon’s General Counsel said the Vodaphone/Verizon split will have no effect on Verizon’s obligations to the US.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.