Apple reveals global data requests by governments for users' data

Data shows that US makes the most requests, but exact numbers are still obscured due to 'gagging order'

Apple has revealed the extent of requests for its users’ data by governments across the world.

The USA led the list, making between 1,000 and 2,000 requests covering 2,000 to 3,000 individuals in the six months leading up to 30 June. Apple says that it gave out data on 0 to 1,000 of these requests, gave out no data in 0 to 1,000 cases and rejected requests in 0 to 1,000 cases.

As with previous disclosures by Facebook and Yahoo, exact figures can not be given due to gagging orders by the US government. Apple says that it ‘strongly opposes’ these restrictions and is currently petitioning the White House, US Attorney General and congressional leaders for “greater transparency”.

Following the US, the UK government made the second most frequent requests for data, with 127 cases covering 141 accounts. Apple disclosed data for 51 of these accounts, objected in 79 cases and disclosed no data for 46 accounts.

Spain’s government made 102 requests, followed by Germany (93 requests), Australia (74) and France (71).

In cases when Apple reports giving out no data this might be due to a successful legal objection or in which the government in question simply finds “no relevant information”. No differentiation between the two outcomes is made.

Apple stated that these requests seeking personal information from users’ accounts represented only a “small fraction” of cases and that “the vast majority of the requests we receive from law enforcement seek information about lost or stolen devices, and are logged as device requests.”

The figures for these device requests shows a greater degree of parity between countries, with the US still leading the chart 3,542 requests, followed by Germany (2,156), Singapore (1,498), Australia (1,178) and the UK (1,028).

 This disclosure of government requests is part of a move towards greater transparency by various US technology companies in response to revelations about mass surveillance orchestrated by the National Security Agency (NSA), uncovered by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a joint letter to the US Senate Judiciary Committee on 31 October Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and AOL requested a reform to current laws, arguing that “transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done.”

“Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs.”

Apple's full statement can be read here.

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