Apple received more than 4,000 government requests for customer data over six months


The Apple Inc. logo is seen in the lobby of New York City's flagship Apple store in this January 18, 2011 file photo. (MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS)
June 17, 2013

Apple has released information on how many data requests it receives from U.S. law enforcement, as it joins Facebook, Microsoft and others in pushing for looser restrictions on what tech companies can share with their customers.

The effort comes in the wake of reports that the National Security Administration has a wide-ranging surveillance program that analyzes consumer information from companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

According to the statement, Apple said it has recently been authorized to reveal that it has received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from federal, state and local U.S. authorities for customer data between Dec. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013. Those requests, the company said affected between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices. Apple said the company’s legal team reviews each request to see if it is appropriate.

“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,” a statement on the company’s Web site says.

The statement does not explicitly mention how many of these requests have been made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or by the NSA. The company said the figures dealt specifically with “requests we receive related to national security.” Apple did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on that point.

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

Apple’s statements follows Friday statements from Facebook and Microsoft that broadly disclosed the number of FISA requests those companies have received in the last six months of 2012. The companies used similar examples of why officials may want the information, such as aiding in a search for missing children.

Apple also said that there are certain kinds of information that it does not provide to law enforcement because it simply doesn’t keep it. This, the company said, includes conversations that take place over its proprietary Messages service, or its video-conferencing FaceTime program. The company also said that it does not store data related to consumers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in a way that they can be traced back to an individual.

The statement did not mention other data Apple keeps on its servers, such as consumer e-mails, videos, photos or files stored on its servers.

Related stories:

Facebook, Microsoft release number of data requests from government

Google, Facebook call for leeway on sharing government requests for data

State photo-ID databases become troves for police

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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