In a new report detailing the number and kind of requests for user information it’s gotten from various governments, Apple said it has never received a request for information under Section 215 of the USA PATROT Act and would likely fight one if it ever came. The company also disclosed that it has received between 1,000 and 2,000 requests for user data from the United States government since January, but it’s not clear how many of those requests it complied with because of the restrictions the U.S. government places on how companies can report this data.
Right now, companies such as Apple, Google and others that issue so-called transparency reports only are allowed to report the volume of requests they get in increments of 1,000. So Apple’s report shows that although it received 1,000-2,000 requests for user data so far in 2013, the number that it complied with is listed as 0-1,000. Apple, along with a number of other companies, including Google and Microsoft, have asked the government in recent months for permission to disclose more specific numbers of requests, including specific numbers of National Security Letters.
“At the time of this report, the U.S. government does not allow Apple 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, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts. 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,” Apple officials said in the report.
As the information regarding the surveillance methods and capabilities of the NSA has piled up in the last few months, many tech companies have become more vocal in discussing the requests they get from government agencies and law enforcement. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Apple have found themselves defending their practices and trying to reassure users that they don’t provide direct access to their servers or data links for law enforcement. Although the government has placed restrictions on how much these companies can reveal about the volume and kind of requests they get, Apple included one specific line in its transparency report that goes about as far as is permissible right now.
“Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us,” the report says.
Section 215 is the bit that’s used by the NSA to collect business records such as phone call metadata.
The report also shows data on how many requests Apple has gotten from dozens of other governments, with the highest number being 127 from the U.K. Apple turned over some data in 37 percent of those requests. The next-highest volume of requests came from Spain, which issued 102, in 22 percent of which Apple handed over some user data.
Image from Flickr photos of MrGuyTsur.