Apple reports a spike in government national security requests

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The US and different governments all over the world wanted a lot of assist getting knowledge from Apple gadgets final yr.

The variety of national security orders issued to Apple by US regulation enforcement doubled to about 6,000 in the second half of 2016, in contrast with the first half of the year, Apple disclosed in its biannual transparency report. Those requests included orders obtained below the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in addition to national security letters, the latter of that are issued by the FBI and do not require a choose’s sign-off.

Critics of National Security Letters, just like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say they “allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens’ private communications and Internet activity without any meaningful oversight or prior judicial review.” Companies that obtain national security letters are topic to gag orders, which implies they can not even disclose they’ve obtained such orders — until the letters turn into declassified.

That’s what occurred in Apple’s case. It disclosed late Monday, as a part of its most up-to-date transparency report, that one of many national security orders it obtained got here in the type of a declassified national security letter. It did not present any extra details about the letter, together with when it initially obtained the order or what the order concerned. Other firms have shared extra details about the requests once they’re declassified.

Apple on Tuesday declined to remark past its transparency report, as did the US Department of Justice.

National security letters have been enabled by the USA Freedom Act, which handed in 2015. As a part of the laws, the FBI has to re-examine previous national security letters and determine which may be declassified. Those began being reported by recipients a yr in the past.

Apple’s not the one firm that is obtained national security letters. Twitter disclosed in January that it obtained two from the FBI in the final two years that beforehand got here with gag orders to not focus on them. Google, Yahoo and Cloudflare even have printed national security letters obtained from the FBI, some relationship again to 2013.

For extra on Apple’s National Security Letter, see the protection by CNET sister website ZDnet, which first reported on Apple’s transparency report.

Battling the FBI

Apple has lengthy helped US regulation enforcement companies pull knowledge from locked iPhones. But its willingness to assist has modified over the previous couple of years because the variety of requests improve and because the government faces backlash over its surveillance ways. Apple fought a very public battle against the FBI final yr, and it has taken a sturdy stance in favor of defending buyer privateness.

The FBI’s attempt last year to force Apple to unlock an iPhone utilized by a terrorist arrange a grand authorized battle between security and privateness. On one facet was Apple, a huge tech firm envisioning a future much like the one in George Orwell’s novel “1984” (which, coincidentally, has become a bestseller once more after President Donald Trump’s inauguration). On the opposite was the world’s strongest government, pointing to the specter of a terrorist assault if it may’t get entry to important info.

The stakes have been sky-high. Cybersecurity consultants mentioned the dispute may have far-reaching implications for all the pieces from how non-public our private images are to how tech firms function in different international locations. But the battle ended in a draw when the FBI in March suddenly said it did not want Apple’s assist anymore to unlock the cellphone.

Along with disclosing the variety of national security orders it has obtained, Apple on Monday mentioned it obtained four,254 gadget requests in the US in the second half of 2016, down from four,822 in the primary six months of the yr. It gave info in 78 % of the instances in each halves of the yr. Most gadget requests come from regulation enforcement companies serving to iPhone homeowners who’ve requested assist finding misplaced or stolen gadgets. Other requests relate to fraud investigations.

Apple additionally mentioned it obtained 2,231 account info requests throughout the globe in the second half of 2016. In the US, the whole was 1,219. It gave knowledge in regard to 79 % of the worldwide requests and 83 % of the US orders. In the primary half of the yr, it offered knowledge for 84 % of the 1,363 US requests it obtained.

The firm mentioned “examples of such requests are where law enforcement agencies are working on cases where they suspect an account may have been used unlawfully or in violation of Apple’s terms of service. Account-based requests generally seek details of customers’ iTunes or iCloud accounts, such as a name and address; and in certain instances customers’ iCloud content, such as stored photos, email, iOS device backups, contacts or calendars.”

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