Apple grants government requests for customer data 80 percent of the time

Even as Apple continues its high-profile campaign of resistance to the FBI’s attempts to hack into one of its phones, the company’s annual Transparency Report, released today, shows the feds have quietly been making a sizable number of secret requests for user data.

And Apple reveals in the report that it has quietly been forking over most of it.

How much: Apple said it gave up “some data” in 80 percent of the requests made in the second half of 2015, just a tad shy of the 81 percent in the first half of the year.

As The Next Web blog points out, while many figures in the report remain reliably, if not comfortably constant, the number of requests made for details on specific accounts jumped four-fold, from as little as 250 to as many as 1,499, over the first half of 2015 to the second.

As Apple says at the top of its report:

Apple takes our commitment to protecting your data very seriously and we work incredibly hard to deliver the most secure hardware, software and services available. We also believe every customer has a right to understand how their personal information is handled. For government information requests, we report as much detail as we are legally allowed.

Apple says that when the company gets a request from law enforcement about a customer’s personal information, it will “notify the customer a request concerning their personal data was made unless we are explicitly prohibited from doing so.”

The company goes on to say that it reserves the “right to make exceptions, such as for extreme situations when we believe disclosing information could put a child or other person in serious danger, or where notice is not applicable to the underlying facts of the case.”

The report, which breaks down the number of requests by country, says that in the last six months of last year, law-enforcement agencies in the United States made 4,000 inquiries, which covered 16,112 devices. Under the heading “Number of Device Requests Where Some Data Was Provided” the number was 3,195, and the “Percentage of Device Requests Where Some Data Was Provided” was 80.

That compared with some countries in which Apple honored 100 percent of the requests ( Slovakia, for example) to 21 percent (Portugal).

Of the total requests in the U.S., 106 of them were labeled as “emergency requests.” They described them this way:

Table 3 shows all the emergency and/or exigent requests that we have received globally. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 2702(b)(8) and 2702(c)(4) Apple may voluntarily disclose information, including contents of communications and customer records, to a federal, state, or local governmental entity if Apple believes in good faith that an emergency involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires such disclosure without delay.

Apple did not respond to a request for more information about the report. But the company’s general counsel, Bruce Sewell, on Tuesday told a U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that “the people subject to law enforcement inquiries represent far less than one-tenth of one percent of our hundreds of millions of users.”

But all of those users — 100% of our users would be made more vulnerable if we were forced to build a back door. As you heard from our colleagues in law enforcement, they have the perception that encryption walls off information to them. But technologists and national security experts don’t see the world that way. We see a data-rich world that seems to be full of information. Information that law enforcement can use to solve — and prevent — crimes.

Photo by Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group


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