Apple has issued a statement which explains its commitment to customer privacy and how it handles government requests for data following the PRISM scandal. The Cupertino company has reiterated that it did not know about the PRISM program until June 6 when it was first contacted by the media, and that it does not provide government agencies with direct access to its servers.
Any government agency that wants Apple to reveal customer data must first obtain a court order, Apple says, and even then they do not get direct access to Apple’s servers. All requests go through Apple, and there are a lot of them. In an effort to be transparent about how it works with the government, Apple has requested permission to report how many requests it has received and how it handles them.
“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,” the company said in a statement on Monday. “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,” the statement continued.
Apple adds that regardless of the circumstances, all requests for data from the government are evaluated by Apple’s Legal team, and only if appropriate, “the narrowest possible set of information” is passed back to the authorities. Apple insists it doesn’t give away information it doesn’t need to disclose, and it even refuses requests for data it sees “inconsistencies or inaccuracies” in a request.
“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,” the company said.
As an example, Apple notes that its iMessage and FaceTime servers are protected by “end-to-end” encryption, and that only the sender and receiver can see and read their conversations. Apple cannot decrypt that data, it says, so neither Apple or the government is able to see it.
“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,” Apple’s statement concludes.