Apple reveals US law agencies made up to 5,000 data requests

17 Jun 2013

In the fallout over revelations of the PRISM programme, technology giant Apple has said it does not provide any government agency direct access to its servers and revealed it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests for data from US law-enforcement agencies.

Apple was one of a number of technology companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft named by Edward Snowden who claimed that US intelligence agencies were accessing their servers as part of the PRISM programme.

In recent days, Facebook and Microsoft revealed they had received 18,000 and 31,000 legal orders respectively from law enforcement agencies performing investigations.

Apple said it first heard of the PRISM programme when news organisations asked about it on 6 June.

“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 said it has asked the US authorities to allow it to report on how many legal requests it receives in relation to national security and how it handles them.

“From 1 December 2012 to 31 May 2013 Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from US law enforcement for customer data. Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters.

“The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.

“Regardless of the circumstances, our legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities. In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfil it.”

Apple prioritises customer privacy

Apple said it prioritises the protection of customers’ private data and as a policy doesn’t collect or maintain a “mountain of personal details” about customers.

“There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it.

“For example, conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.

“We will continue to work hard to strike the right balance between fulfilling our legal responsibilities and protecting our customers’ privacy as they expect and deserve,” Apple said.

Binary world image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years