Apple opens up on data requests after US govt deal

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Apple opens up on data requests after US govt deal

US tech giants allowed more transparency.

Apple has quickly updated its most recent data request transparency report after the US government struck a deal with technology companies allowing them to tell the public in greater detail about the spying-related court orders they receive.

The agreement, filed in the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, settles demands from companies such as Google and Microsoft for more leeway to disclose data about the court orders, according to documents released by the department.

Tech companies have sought to clarify their relationships with US law enforcement and spying agencies since June 2013, when leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began to show the depth of US spying capabilities.

President Barack Obama's administration, however, has been wary of disclosing data it believes might help suspected militants in other countries avoid surveillance.

The new agreement allows companies for the first time to report on national security orders (commonly used by the FBI) and requests from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

A company that offers email services, for example, is now able to say it received between zero and 999 orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court during a six-month period for email content belonging to someone outside the United States.

Companies are currently allowed to disclose national security orders in increments of 1000. They will now be able to choose between being more specific about the number of demands - in increments of 250 - or the type of demands received (whether they are national security orders or FISA court orders).

There are exceptions: If a company introduced a new communications platform, it would need to wait two years before telling the public about a court order for information about that platform.

Companies are also now allowed to publish detail on such requests every six months, with a six month delay.

Following the announcement, Apple released an updated version of its November Report on Government Information Requests to reveal for the first time how many national security orders it had received, as well as the actual number of requests it received for information related to law enforcement investigations.

"Apple has been working closely with the White House, the US Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the Department of Justice to advocate for greater transparency with regard to the national security orders we receive," it said in a statement.

"We believe strongly that our customers have the right to understand how their personal information is being handled, and we are pleased the government has developed new rules that allow us to more accurately report law enforcement orders and national security orders in the US."

It revealed it received between 0 and 249 total national security orders between January 1 and June 30 last year, affecting between 0 and 249 user accounts.

Apple also gave more specific figures for how many law enforcement account requests it received in that period from the US Government - it got 927 requests for account information, disclosed data for 747 accounts, objected to 102 account data requests, and disclosed metadata for 601 account requests.

It previously reported US government account information requests in increments of 1000.

The company last year revealed the Australian government had made 74 requests for account information and 1178 requests for device information in the same six month period last year.

It handed over the user data in 41 of the 74 cases, and gave device data to authorities in 695 of the 1178 requests.

Apple today reported its results for the first quarter of fiscal 2014, with net profit of US$13.1 billion (A$14.9 billion), the same as Q1 2013, and "record" revenue of US$57.6 billion, compared to US$54.5 billion in the first quarter of FY2013.

But Apple's stock fell over 7 percent to US$508.88 after the release of the results thanks to lower than expected iPhone sales. The company reported sales of 51 million iPhones during the quarter - a 7 percent increase on the 48 million sold in Q1 2013 - but lower than analyst predictions of 55 million. 

With Reuters

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