Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

What data Apple does and doesn't share with the cops

June 17, 2013: 7:21 AM ET

In the space of six months Apple received 4,000 to 5,000 law enforcement requests.

Source: NSA's PRISM slide show.

Source: NSA's PRISM slide show.

FORTUNE -- Embarrassed to find itself on the list of companies from whose servers the National Security Agency claims to have been "directly" collecting data, Apple (AAPL) issued a public statement early Monday that it hoped would allay its customers' concerns. Among the key points:

  • The authorities asked for a ton of information: Between Dec. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013 the company received 4,000 to 5,000 requests about 9,000 to 10,000 accounts and devices.
  • The requests came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters.
  • Many of those requests, according to Apple, were benign. "The most common form," it said, "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."
  • Apple's lawyers reviewed each request, provided "the narrowest possible set of information," and from time to time rejected the requests outright.
  • Apple does not provide the content of conversations that take place over iMessage and FaceTime because those are encrypted in a way that Apple says it can't break. Whether the NSA can is left unanswered.
  • Apple does not store data related to customers' location, Map searches or Siri requests in a way that can be traced back to the user. Again, whether the NSA could do that is not clear.
  • By omission, Apple's statement implies that the contents of e-mail, photographs, videos and other files stored on Apple's servers are fair game.

Note too that Apple received the government's permission to release only "some of [the] data" related to law enforcement requests for information about its customers.

Link: Apple's commitment to customer privacy.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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