FT/John Aglionby: Apple has joined Microsoft and Facebook in releasing details of requests from US law enforcement agencies for customer data amid continuing concerns over the extent of secret government surveillance.
Apple said in a statement it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests over the six months from December 2012 to May 2013 covering between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices. The requests came from federal, state and local authorities and related to both criminal 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,” the statement said.
The government-approved disclosure from Apple, and those from Facebook and Microsoft of requests of a similar order of magnitude last week, follow revelations earlier this month by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden of the US government’s secret Prism electronic surveillance programme.
On Sunday, in a memo to the US Congress, intelligence agencies said they checked the metadata of fewer than 300 telephone accounts. They added that their electronic surveillance programmes had helped disrupt “dozens of potential terrorist plots” in the US and more than 20 other countries.
The tech giant also sought to reassure customers that it did not “collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers” and that “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”.
It also said that conversations that 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,” the statement said. “Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.”
Until now, internet companies have been forbidden from revealing that they have received secret court orders for information about users outside the US made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. However, after reports claiming that they gave the security services direct access to their servers to find information about suspected terrorists, they have pressed for permission to report more.