Apple, Inc. has become the latest technology firm to come clean about U.S. government requests to snoop on its customers’ communications, after a self-proclaimed whistleblower revealed that the National Security Agency had agreements with the Cupertino, Calif.-based iPhone maker and eight other major Internet companies to access their data.
In a statement posted late Sunday on the company’s website, Apple said it received “between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data” for the six months ending May 31.
Those requests listed between 9,000 and 10,000 “accounts or devices” that cops or government officials wanted access to.
The company, the most highly valued technology form in the world, said the requests “came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters.”
Earlier this month, former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden released to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers top secret documents revealing a program called Prism. According to the documents, the program enables the ultra-secret agency to monitor electronic communications — including telephone, email, video and text chat — from nine named companies: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, AOL, PalTalk, Facebook, YouTube, Skype and Apple.
Apple is the latest company to come clean after getting permission from the government to publicly acknowledge the eavesdropping — much of which is carried out under special special orders authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which gag recipients from discussing them.
At the weekend, Facebook Inc. said that it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests for data — targeting just under 19,000 users — from all U.S. government agencies in the second half of last year.
Microsoft lawyers said in a blog post that they got requests covering 31,000 to 32,000 consumer accounts.
Google said it is pushing for permission to release a more detailed breakdown of the various kinds of requests the company gets — differentiating NSA orders, issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, from conventional law enforcement warrants issued on probable cause grounds.
“Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] disclosures, separately,” from regular law enforcement requests, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News Monday.
Apple said that “the most common form of request” is from police agencies “investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.”