Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has revealed an estimate of the number of requests for user information it has received from the government in recent months. This comes just days after Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) revealed the numbers of their data requests.
The PRISM Data Mining Program
Facebook, Microsoft and Apple are revealing these numbers in the wake of the revealing of the PRISM data mining program. Under that program, it has been alleged that several tech companies gave government agencies like the National Security Agency direct access to their servers.
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Today’s Statement From Apple
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) posted its own statement on its website this morning, reiterating its earlier claim of not knowing about the PRISM program until when the media asked them about it earlier this month. Once again, the company said it doesn’t provide any government agencies with “direct access” to its servers. It also said that any agency which requests user information must present a court order to receive it.
The company then went on to say that it asked the government if it would be allowed to report the number of requests it received about national security matters and to explain how it handles them. Authorities gave Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) the authorization to release certain details.
Government Requests For Apple
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) said between Dec. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013, it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from law enforcement agencies within the U.S. In those requests, between 9,000 and 10,000 specific “accounts or devices” were specifically named in those requests. The company has lumped requests from state, local and federal authorities together in these numbers.
It said the most common requests came from police who were looking into robberies or other crimes, trying to find children who were missing, looking for a missing patient suffering from Alzheimer’s or trying to prevent someone from committing suicide.
How Apple Handles These Requests
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) said its legal team evaluates each request and does not automatically grant any of them. It hands over the least amount of information required to comply with the request from authorities. Occasionally the company has refused to fulfill a request if there were “inconsistencies or inaccuracies” within it. It also said there are “certain categories of information” it doesn’t provide to any group, including law enforcement, because the company chooses not to retain it.
Among the data which Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) claims it keeps private from authorities is iMessage conversations and FaceTime. Both services have end-to-end encryption so that only the receiver and sender is able to view them. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) claims it isn’t able to decrypt the data and that it doesn’t store data referring to the location of its users, their map searches or their Siri requests “in any identifiable form.”
If you remember, it was revealed in April that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stores users’ Siri questions for up to two years. However, the company claims that stored queries are not tied to the user who spoke them into the service, which on the surface, seems to link to the company’s reference in today’s statement regarding “any identifiable form.”