Apple reveals government data requests

A man walking past an Apple logo
Image caption Apple said its main business is not about collecting customer data

Apple has revealed details of requests it has received from governments across the globe to share customer data.

The US government, which made between 1,000 and 2,000 requests in the six months to 30 June, topped the list.

The firm said the US requests affected 2,000 to 3,000 accounts, adding it gave out data on zero to 1,000 accounts.

This is the first time Apple has shared such data, but it is still not allowed to reveal the exact number of requests relating to US national security.

Apple said the most common "requests involve robberies and other crimes or requests from law enforcement officers searching for missing persons".

It said the response usually involves disclosing information about an account holder's iTunes or iCloud account "such as a name and an address".

"In very rare cases, we are asked to provide stored photos or email. We consider these requests very carefully and only provide account content in extremely limited circumstances," the firm said.

The UK was second on the list, with 127 requests. Spain, Germany and Australia also featured in the top five.

The tech giant added that since its main business was "not about collecting information", the vast majority of requests it received from law enforcement agencies were about information on "lost or stolen devices".

The company logs these requests under a separate category as "device requests" which, it said, "never include national security-related requests".

Apple received more than 3,500 such requests in the US between January and June this year.

'Gag order'

Apple also used the report to call for more freedom to disclose the details of such requests to customers.

It said that currently the US government did not allow it to disclose "except in broad ranges, the number of national security orders, the number of accounts affected by the orders, or whether content, such as emails, was disclosed".

"We strongly oppose this gag order," it added.

It said it had asked the government to ease these restrictions but so far had not seen any major changes.

"Despite our extensive efforts in this area, we do not yet have an agreement that we feel adequately addresses our customers' right to know how often and under what circumstances we provide data to law enforcement agencies".

Earlier this year, Google, Facebook and Microsoft asked the US government to allow them to disclose the security requests they receive to hand over user data.

The move by these companies came after leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed mass surveillance programmes by the National Security Agency (NSA) and associated agencies.

Apple said it had filed a letter with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court supporting a group of cases requesting greater transparency.

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

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