Tech companies had the wind knocked out of them a few weeks ago when leaked documents indicated that many provided information about customers to the National Security Agency’s previously secret PRISM surveillance program. Now Apple has followed Microsoft and Facebook by providing, in a blog post, a few details about its policies and practices. Apple says that in the six months ending on May 31, U.S. law enforcement officials made “between 4,000 and 5,000” requests for customer data. It adds that the requests identified “between 9,000 and 10,000” accounts or devices. “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 says. How often does the company comply? Not clear. Its lawyers evaluate each request and “only if appropriate” does it provide “the narrowest possible set of information” — and when there are inconsistencies or inaccuracies in the request “we will refuse to fulfill it.” It adds that it doesn’t “collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place.” For example, “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.” Officials who want customer data need a court order, and do not have direct access to Apple’s servers, it says.
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