Apple says US law enforcement agencies have made thousands of requests for user info (updated)

Nicole Lee
N. Lee|11.05.13

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Nicole Lee
November 5th, 2013
In this article: apple
Apple says US law enforcement agencies have made thousands of requests for user info (updated)

Yahoo and Facebook have done it, and now it's Apple's turn to reveal the data requests it gets from the world's governments. In the latest report released by the Cupertino company, it revealed that in the period between January 1, 2013 and June 30, 2013, law enforcement agencies in the US have made 1,000 to 2,000 account requests that affect 2,000 to 3,000 specific accounts. Of that number, 0 to 1,000 accounts were disclosed, though Apple claims it objected to that same number of requests. If some of these numbers sound awfully vague, it's because the US government doesn't allow the company to disclose the exact number of orders as well as which accounts are affected. Apple strongly opposes this, stating: "We strongly oppose this gag order, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts." Indeed, Apple has filed an Amicus brief at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) in support for greater transparency, and pledges to file a second one at the Ninth Circuit.

The device request numbers are much more specific -- 3,542, to be exact -- as these typically do not involve any national security orders and are more about tracking down lost or stolen goods. In those requests, 8,605 devices were specified and of that number, data was provided on 3,110 of them. Apple asserts that "only a small fraction" of requests seek personal account information in regards to iTunes or iCloud. If there are government requests that breach certain expectations of privacy, Apple logs those as one of the aforementioned "account requests." That said, Apple claims that the most common account requests involve robberies or requests to search for missing persons, which might put a damper on any NSA conspiracies.

The company states: "We believe that our customers have a right to understand how their personal information is handled, and we consider it our responsibility to provide them with the best privacy protections available." In perhaps a shot against Google, Apple also says "our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers." The report also unveils account and device requests made by 31 other countries, which include the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, China and Japan. Hit the source link for the full report and more information on those countries.

Update: The Center for Democracy & Technology's Kevin Bankston notes that in the final line of the report, Apple states it's never received a request for information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Legal eagles may recognize Section 215 as the contentious clause that lends the US government a lower threshold than "probable cause," and prevents complying companies from reporting that they've received such inquiries. Bankston posits that Cook and Co. have given us a "warrant canary," which means we'll know they've received such requests once they stop saying they haven't.

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