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Apple sets tighter limits on legal requests after Trump DOJ targeted politicians

Authorities can't demand an excess of information.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: The U.S. Department of Justice is seen on June 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump's Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for data from House Intelligence Committee Democrats including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and their families. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|June 12, 2021 12:10 PM

Apple has limited the scope of legal requests in light of a political dust-up. The company told Reuters that it recently capped requests at 25 identifiers each after the Trump-era Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for information on at least two House Democrats. The New York Times reported that the DOJ targeted Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, plus their aides and family members, in a 2018 bid to find the sources behind stories of Trump associates contacting Russia.

The requests were sweeping. Apple said one subpoena from February 2018 demanded 109 identifiers, 73 of them phone numbers and the rest email addresses. The tech firm stressed that it never provided emails or pictures, and that it didn't show the times or recipients for messages. Apple added that it couldn't determine the nature of the investigation from the request.

The current Justice Department has promised to investigate the subpoenas and other requests to see if the Trump DOJ had abused its powers.

It's not clear how the US government will respond to a ceiling on identifiers. However, the revelations might fuel tech companies' calls for greater transparency on government requests. It can sometimes be difficult to tell when officials are misusing their authority. In theory, more transparency would catch violations sooner and hold governments to account.