Apple has joined Facebook and Microsoft in revealing non-specific figures on governmental requests for user data following the PRISM leaks that have forced many tech companies to defend themselves against claims of playing fast and loose with user data.
Apple’s statement, called a “Commitment to Customer Privacy,” once again denies any knowledgable participation in the NSA’s secret surveillance program and also shoots us the raw numbers for government requests:
In the six-month period beginning December 1st, 2012 and ending on May 31st, 2013 Apple says that they received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement to access user data. This affected somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 individual accounts. This includes both national security-related requests, as well as other types of law enforcement queries.
“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,” says Apple.
Inside the statement, Apple also revealed that they simply cannot decrypt data sent via iMessage or FaceTime:
Apple has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data, and we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place. There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it.
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.
We already knew that federal agencies were having a problem with Apple’s messaging products. Back in April a leaked document from the bowels of the DEA revealed just how hard of a time they were having in decrypting Apple’s iMessage data.
Facebook also demanded the U.S. government to allow them more freedom in disclosing national security-related data requests, and they also got their wish. Facebook reported between 9,000 and 10,000 specific requests in the past 6 months. Microsoft also revealed their numbers – between 6,000 and 7,000 requests in the same period.