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PRISM: Apple gets 5,000 government data release requests in six months

17 Jun 2013
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Apple has revealed that it received up to 5,000 requests for customer data from US government authorities over a six-month period.

In a detailed statement posted on its website Apple maintained that it had never heard of the PRISM system until it was first reported but acknowledged that it does receive, and fulfill, data requests from the government.

“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 said.

“Like several other companies, we have asked the US government for permission to report how many requests we receive related to national security and how we handle them. We have been authorised to share some of that data, and we are providing it here in the interest of transparency.”

Apple then detailed that between 1 December 2012 and 31 May 2013, between 4,000 and 5,000 requests were received, which specified access requests for 9,000 to 10,000 individual accounts. These requests were from federal, state and local authorities and related to both “criminal investigations and national security matter”.

“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,” Apple said.

However, the firm was adamant that such requests were only fulfilled after extensive examination of their contents.

“Regardless of the circumstances, our legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities. In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it.”

Apple reiterated that no content of conversations is recorded and cannot be decrypted.

“Conversations which 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. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.”

The release of data comes after other tech giants such as Google, Twitter and Microsoft all pushed for the right to reveal more information on the requests they receive form government. This was done in order to distance themselves from claims they provide unfettered access to the data stored on their servers.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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