Apple discloses government data requests -- what little it can

(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Apple released a report Tuesday that provided some general information about requests for information it receives from governments.

Although the report sheds some light on the topic, it also demonstrates the futility of such disclosure efforts, particularly when it comes to information related to requests from the U.S. government.

As Apple notes in the report:

“The U.S. government has given us permission to share only a limited amount of information about these orders, with the requirement that we combine national security orders with account-based law enforcement requests and report only a consolidated range in increments of 1000.”


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The U.S. numbers are even more diluted because Apple must report standard law enforcement requests (due to a stolen phone, for instance) in aggregate with requests from a U.S. government agency (say, the National Security Administration).

The result is that under the category Total Number of Law Enforcement Requests Received it says: 1,000 to 2,000. Number of accounts where data was disclosed: zero to 1,000. Number of requests where Apple objected: zero to 1,000.

What does all that tell us? Not much.

So why even bother with the report? Apple used the document to again stress that it maintains clear and strong privacy policies.

But it also used the report to press its case that Apple and all other companies that receive such requests should be allowed to release more detailed information.

Apple writes on its inability to be more transparent:

“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.... We feel strongly that the government should lift the gag order and permit companies to disclose complete and accurate numbers regarding FISA requests and National Security Letters. We will continue to aggressively pursue our ability to be more transparent.”


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