Apple publishes first formal report on NSA requests

Apple explains "device requests" versus "account requests"

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
November 6, 2013
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On Tuesday afternoon, Apple revealed the number of government requests for user information it has received between January 1 and June 30, 2013. The report came amid growing unrest over the scope and scale of the NSA spying scandal, which has prompted Apple and other tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook) to press the government to lift the gag order preventing such companies from revealing the number of requests they receive.

Just like the last time Apple reported such numbers, it once again can’t disclose the exact number of requests or the reason the requests. But the company has been able to narrow down the general nature of the requests into two categories: account requests and device requests.

While device requests are fairly banal and usually have something to do with a stolen device that law enforcement is trying to track down at the request of the owner, account requests are deeper reaching. They can include anything from the account holder’s name and address to stored photos and email.

Apple notes that most of the account requests are made to help solve serious problems, such as finding a missing person or kidnapping victim, preventing a suicide, or solving a crime such as a robbery. But then there’s the rest…

“As we have explained, any government agency demanding customer content from Apple must get a court order. When we receive such a demand, our legal team carefully reviews the order. If there is any question about the legitimacy or scope of the court order, we challenge it. Only when we are satisfied that the court order is valid and appropriate do we deliver the narrowest possible set of information responsive to the request,” the report states.

Because the U.S. government has only allowed Apple to share the number of requests it’s received in ranges of 1000, the numbers are pretty broad and vague—but startling nonetheless. While account requests from most other countries didn’t even exceed double digits (except for Spain and the UK: 102 and 127, respectively), the U.S. government made 1000-2000 requests on as many as 3000 Apple customers. Data was disclosed on 0-1000 of those accounts, and Apple objected to 0-1000 of those data requests.

Device requests were higher than account requests in all of the countries listed, but they were the highest in the U.S.: 3542 requests on 8605 devices. Some data was provided on 3110 of those requests—or 88%.

These numbers aren’t staggering. over the summer, Apple revealed that it had received 4000-5000 data requests affecting 9000-10,000 accounts between December 2012 and May 2013. Today’s report is the first of its kind to narrow those numbers down by account versus device requests.

Also over the summer, Yahoo revealed that it has received the highest number of data requests on its users: between 12,000 and 13,000. 


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