Apple Discloses User Information to Governments

Apple disclosed data from its users accounts to U.S. administration officials fewer than 1000 times during the previous months of 2013, according to a Report on Government Information Requests that the company issued on 5 Nov 2013.
“Apple’s main business is not about collecting information,” the company said in the report. In detailing its interactions with governments, both in the United States and around the world, Apple hoped to provide more transparency about the processes.

Apple continue to say that it has repeatedly made the case for increased openness in its meetings with the government. Apple is also filing an amicus brief with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), supporting other cases requesting more transparency.

Apple explained that the U.S. government prohibits the company from disclosing “except in broad ranges” the precise number of requests it receives or the number of accounts affected, making it difficult to get a full picture of the government’s actions.

“We feel strongly that the government should lift the gag order and permit companies to disclose complete and accurate numbers regarding FISA requests and National Security Letters,” the company said in its report. “We will continue to aggressively pursue our ability to be more transparent.”

With this move, Apple joins the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, and Google; earlier this year, all three of the companies voiced their desire to be more open with the public about government requests.
The report by the company does state that the requests made by the US government are significantly higher than any other government in the world.

Apple contends that the number of requests is still low, with around 1000 to 2000 requests made for data from around 2000 to 3000 thousands user accounts. Interesting to note that each request involves a number of user accounts. Despite the relatively small number of requests user should still be concerned by the type of information been released such as iCloud email, contacts, calendar, or Photo Stream content.

On the flip side if we look at the UK government as a comparison, there were only 127 requests made, resulting in only a single instance account data been supplied.

Apple provide the following on the type of requests made: “The most common account requests involve robberies and other crimes or requests from law enforcement officers searching for missing persons or children, finding a kidnapping victim, or hoping to prevent a suicide,” Apple said in the report. “In very rare cases, we are asked to provide stored photos or email. We consider these requests very carefully and only provide account content in extremely limited circumstances.”

In the US Apple also receives a number of requests (3,542) to provide device information, apparently usually for lost or stolen phones. In this case Apple can provide exact information as Device Data Requests are never related to National Security matters.

“As we have explained, any government agency demanding customer content from Apple must get a court order,” the company said in the report. “When we receive such a demand, our legal team carefully reviews the order. If there is any question about the legitimacy or scope of the court order, we challenge it. Only when we are satisfied that the court order is valid and appropriate do we deliver the narrowest possible set of information responsive to the request.”
Apple added that it has not received—and would challenge—any order generated under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That’s the section commonly understood to allow the FBI to obtain a person’s “library records” without their knowledge.
The full report is available from Apple’s website.

Apple Discloses User Information to Governments

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