Apple given permission to publish govt data requests

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Apple given permission to publish govt data requests

Small number of requests claimed.

Apple has been given United States government permission to reveal how many requests for customer data it has received, and remains adamant that it is protecting its customers' privacy.

While not allowed by the US government to release exact figures on the number of requests, only ranges, Apple said that from December 1 2012 to end of May this year, it received "between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from US law enforcement for customer data".

Between nine to ten thousand accounts or devices were named in the requests, coming from US authorities at all levels. Police investigating robberies were the most frequent requesters but missing children, locating patients with Alzheimer's, and suicide prevention also formed part of them.

Apple did not provide further information on the requests but said each one was subject to scrutiny by the company's legal team and only the least amount of information required was given out.

The company reiterated that it wasn't aware of the PRISM bulk surveillance programme operated by the US National Security Agency until alerted to its existence on June 6 this year.

"We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order," Apple stated. 

Apple refused requests with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and said it did not store "a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place", meaning it wouldn't provide information to law enforcement agencies simply because it does not have it.

Siri requests and Map searches are not stored, Apple claimed, nor is any customer location data. iMessage and FaceTime conversations are encrypted end-to-end and Apple can't decrypt that data.

Over the weekend, Facebook's general legal counsel, Ted Ullyot, said the social networking giant was now allwed to provide figures on the number of user data requests received, and could include these in its transparency report.

For the half-year to December 31 2012, Facebook received between 9,000 to 10,000 requests for user data. Between 18,000 to 19,000 accounts were involved in the US government requests.

Facebook said the requests covered a wide range of matters, such as missing children to terrorist threats and said it accounted for a tiny fraction of its user accounts.

"We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved, and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive," Ullyot wrote.

In a similar vein, MIcrosoft published its range of figures of requests for user data received after the FBI and US department of justice gave it permission to do so. For the half-year ending December 31, Microsoft received between six to seven thousand criminal and national security warrants and subpoenas, affecting between 31,000 to 32,000 consumer accounts, the company stated.

Like Facebook, Microsoft said it would continue to press the US government to allow for greater transparency in these matters.

"Transparency alone may not be enough to restore public confidence, but it’s a great place to start," Microsoft's vice president and deputy general counsel said.


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