Apple Open Up Sharing Data With Government
November 6, 2013

Apple Opens Up About Giving Government Data

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Apple has now joined Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Yahoo in asking the US government to allow them to disclose exactly how many national security letters they receive from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. In a public report, Apple explained their public policies and provided what information they are currently allowed to disclose.

At present, the American government only allows tech firms to disclose how many data requests they receive in increments of 1,000. This stark contrast is easily seen in Apple’s new report which breaks down the number of requests they receive from other countries. Between January 1, 2013 and June 30, 2013, Apple received anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 requests for information on 2,000 to 3,000 accounts, but they cannot say how many requests were granted.

Apple has also filed an amicus brief with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (often referred to as the FISA Court) in support of other tech firms asking the FBI to allow more transparency in these reports. Early in the report, Apple touts not only their privacy policies, but their business practices as well.

“Perhaps most important, our business does not depend on collecting personal data,” reads the report. “We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers. We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form.”

Apple later compares their policies to those of their competitors, saying: “Unlike many other companies dealing with requests for customer data from government agencies, Apple’s main business is not about collecting information.”

In their report, Apple claims to give away very little information as infrequently as possible. Any government agency must receive a court order before they can ask the company for any information. Once it receives this request, Apple’s legal team then reviews its so-called 'legitimacy or scope' and challenges the court order where appropriate.

Apple also separates the kind of requests it receives into two categories: Device requests and account requests. Just as it sounds, device requests are logged when law enforcement officials ask for information about lost or stolen devices. These requests are often initiated by the customers and are likely working with local police to recover an iPad or iPhone.

In its amicus brief, Apple says the FBI refused its requests to disclose specific data request numbers in June. Like other companies in America, Apple can disclose very broad information about national security requests, but it must also include the number of data requests used in investigations from kidnapping, robberies and the like.

Famed patent blogger Florian Mueller received a copy of this amicus brief. In it Apple says; "the FBI did not identify anything in the law that authorizes the Government to prohibit disclosure of the aggregate number of national security requests received by Apple.” Instead, the FBI “portrayed its decision as an exercise of its discretion not to enforce the statute against Apple specifically.”

Apple’s main rival Google has also been fighting the FISA Court to allow them to disclose specific information rather than broad figures. Shortly after it was revealed the NSA had used a program to facilitate the easy transfer of data between tech companies and the government, Google began lobbying to disclose more information while Apple denied any knowledge of the program. Last week, it was revealed the NSA has been collecting data from Google and Yahoo without their knowledge in a program codenamed MUSCULAR.