SEATTLE — When the Trump administration’s Justice Department sought to ferret out leakers, it turned to the tech giants where so much of our digital life is stashed.

Apple and Microsoft disclosed last week that the agency secretly subpoenaed account data from members of Congress and aides to crack down on leaks during the Trump administration. That followed recent disclosures to media organizations including The Washington Post and the New York Times that the Trump Justice Department had secretly sought reporters’ phone and email records in an effort to identify the sources of leaks.

That information — which email addresses and phone numbers we use and when we use them — can be crucial to piecing together a leak in a probe.

And there is little the tech giants can do but comply. Because these subpoenas can come with a gag order, the companies were precluded from notifying customers that information was turned over. The data gathering became public only after those orders expired.

Here’s what you need to know.

What to know

  • How many subpoenas were issued, and who issued them?
  • What kind of information was gathered?
  • Why did the government use a subpoena to get the information?
  • Why did it take so long for tech companies to tell customers their data was turned over?
  • Are there ever good reasons for gag orders?
  • Why are investigators issuing subpoenas to tech companies rather than the targets of their investigations?