Apple on Monday morning issued a public statement regarding customer privacy after having been named as one of several technology giants accused of cooperating with the NSA’s PRISM program. The company was one of the first to issue a flat-out denial when news of PRISM first broke, stating that it had never even heard of the NSA snooping scheme prior to being asked about it by news organizations. Now, Apple has issued a statement elaborating on how and when it cooperates with U.S. law enforcement agencies seeking private data about its customers.
Apple stated that in the 17-month period ending May 31st, 2013, the company received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests for data from law enforcement agencies in the U.S. “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,” Apple said.
According to the company’s statement, Apple’s legal team evaluates each request and delivers the “narrowest possible set of information” to authorities. It also claims that when it finds “inconsistencies or inaccuracies” in data requests, it refuses to fill them.
Finally, Apple noted that iMessage and FaceTime communications are fully encrypted and not even Apple has the capability to decrypt them. “Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form,” Apple also noted.
Apple’s full press release follows below.
Apple’s Commitment to Customer Privacy
Two weeks ago, when technology companies were accused of indiscriminately sharing customer data with government agencies, Apple issued a clear response: We first heard of the government’s “Prism” program when news organizations asked us about it on June 6. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order.
Like several other companies, we have asked the U.S. government for permission to report how many requests we receive related to national security and how we handle them. We have been authorized to share some of that data, and we are providing it here in the interest of transparency.
From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data. Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters. 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.
Regardless of the circumstances, our Legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities. In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it.
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 will continue to work hard to strike the right balance between fulfilling our legal responsibilities and protecting our customers’ privacy as they expect and deserve.