Apple Clarify Their Position On Government Information Requests
Apple has joined many of the top tech companies in asking the US government for more transparency on requests for users’ data. However, the company was quick to point out that unlike other companies such as Google, they are not in the business of collecting information. As a result, requests are more related to lost and stolen devices.
Like many companies, Apple receives requests from law enforcement agencies to provide customer information. As we have explained, any government agency demanding customer content from Apple must get a court order.¹ When we receive such a demand, our legal team carefully reviews the order. If there is any question about the legitimacy or scope of the court order, we challenge it. Only when we are satisfied that the court order is valid and appropriate do we deliver the narrowest possible set of information responsive to the request.
Unlike many other companies dealing with requests for customer data from government agencies, Apple’s main business is not about collecting information. As a result, the vast majority of the requests we receive from law enforcement seek information about lost or stolen devices, and are logged as device requests. These types of requests frequently arise when our customers ask the police to assist them with a lost or stolen iPhone, or when law enforcement has recovered a shipment of stolen devices.
Only a small fraction of the requests that Apple receives seek personal information related to an iTunes, iCloud, or Game Center account. Account-based requests generally involve account holders’ personal data and their use of an online service in which they have an expectation of privacy, such as government requests for customer identifying information, email, stored photographs, or other user content stored online. Apple logs these as account requests.
We believe it is important to differentiate these categories and report them individually. Device requests and account requests involve very different types of data. Many of the device requests we receive are initiated by our own customers working together with law enforcement. Device requests never include national security–related requests.