Monday, June 17, 2013

Apple confirms extent of government requests for user data: 4,000 - 5,000 requests in past six months

Apple, typically thoughtful and cautious, finally spoke up on Monday, addressing the PRISM NSA program that was outed about a week and a half ago by Edward Snowden.

Apple reiterated the initial response it gave when news organizations spoke to it about PRISM on June 6: It had never heard of the program before that date. In addition, the Cupertino, Calif.-based giant stated, it does not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers -- something that was implied by the initial Washington Post reports, but later rescinded. Finally, any government agency requesting Apple customer content must provide a court order.

Like many other tech organizations, to increase transparency, Apple asked the U.S. government for permission if it could release "how many requests we receive related to national security and how we handle them." Apple said that from Dec. 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013 it had received between somewhere 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies.

The requests covered between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices, meaning a rough average of zbout two accounts/devices per request. Those were not all FISA requests, as they came from a variety of agencies, including local, state and federal authorities. They involved both national security matters as well as criminal investigations.

The most common type of request came from police investigating robberies and other crimes, not national security issues. Incident ran the gamut from searching for missing children, to attempting to find a missing Alzheimer's patient, to attempting to prevent a suicide.

Apple is just the latest tech company to reveal these sorts of figures since PRISM and the Verizon Wireless NSA programs were revealed. On Friday, Facebook revealed its FISA numbers, stating that up to 19,000 user accounts were queried by the US government. Some hours later, Microsoft revealed that it had received 6,000-7,000 requests involving 31,000-32,000 accounts in the last six months.

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