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Apple releases report on government requests for user data, 'strongly' opposes US gag order

Apple releases report on government requests for user data, 'strongly' opposes US gag order

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It's certainly not the first, but Apple is the latest major consumer tech company to release a report outlining the requests it receives from governments around the world seeking information on its users. Apple's document includes requests from all countries and covers a period ranging from January 1st to June 30th of this year.

"We believe that our customers have a right to understand how their personal information is handled, and we consider it our responsibility to provide them with the best privacy protections available," reads the introduction to the report. Like other companies, Apple can only list requests from the US government in broad ranges — inquiries from the NSA and other intelligence agencies are lumped into this sum. "We strongly oppose this gag order, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the US Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts," the document says.

"We will continue to aggressively pursue our ability to be more transparent."

And thanks to that gag order, the numbers themselves are extremely difficult to parse. Apple says it received somewhere between 0 and 1,000 US law enforcement requests that encompassed between between 2000 and 3000 user accounts. The number of requests for information about devices is much larger. Those totals are also much more specific since they don't include national security-related requests. Apple received 3542 device requests, which in total factored in 8,605 consumer devices. It complied and provided "some data" in 3,110 of those instances. We've known that iOS devices are popular targets for thieves, and these numbers seem to bear that out. "Many of the device requests we receive are initiated by our own customers working together with law enforcement," Apple says.

"Our business does not depend on collecting personal data."

In addition to going on the offensive against the government's secretive data collection, Apple also throws some barbs at competitors. "Perhaps most important, our business does not depend on collecting personal data," the report says, which can easily be read as a reference to Google. "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."

Like others in the industry, Apple calls for the US government to allow greater transparency in these reports. "We believe that dialogue and advocacy are the most productive way to bring about a change in these policies, rather than filing a lawsuit against the US government." But the company apparently wants to have a say in cases that are ongoing. "Concurrent with the release of this report, we have filed an Amicus brief at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) in support of a group of cases requesting greater transparency." Like Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and others, Apple ultimately wants to see the government "lift the gag order and permit companies to disclose complete and accurate numbers regarding FISA requests and National Security Letters."