It had to happen at some point; we just hoped it wouldn’t be true. Apple has become the next company to admit it had received over 4,000 information requests from the US government under the NSA PRISM program that has caused a rift in the media and online community. Technology firms have come under increasing pressure by government agencies to disclose details of users who are suspected of criminal activity. The program enabled agencies to access or have direct access to companies data servers, housing their entirety of user data. Apple earlier refused that it gives government agencies unlimited access to their servers but that’s not what they say now. In their defence Apple admitted they only heard of PRISM via the news organisations themselves:
“We first heard of the government’s ‘Prism’ program when news organizations asked us about it on June 6.”
Apple told us it receives around 5,000 request for law enforcement agencies which affected 9,000 accounts but denies just allowing random access to sensitive user data. Apple stated they have:
“always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data,”
But now they become the latest victim of the PRISM program by the NSA. This cyber snooping project allows agencies access to servers full of confidential data for lawful purposes: We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order”. Apple had previously put emphasis on the fact services such as iMessage and FaceTime remained encrypted; but it now appears Apple can decrypt them to share with the NSA and others. The NSA and others have not focused on Apple but it is merely the latest in a spate of companies publishing their data request statistics in attempts to make their data handling more transparent. In essence we look at Apple from a deceptive point of view but they aren’t the only ones. It raises the question, how do the companies we entrust our data with keep it safe? Agencies, in the pursuit of the law should have the right to access possible criminal data but what we don’t want is a full nanny state society or snooping patrol that threatens the independence of the Internet. Apple and other firms have been made an unfair scapegoat in the last few days, however it is up to politicians and society to ensure we don’t fall into the horrible trap of mass censorship that we all know too well.
Read full PR statement below:
Apple’s Commitment to Customer Privacy
Two weeks ago, when technology companies were accused of indiscriminately sharing customer data with government agencies, Apple issued a clear response: We first heard of the government’s “Prism” program when news organizations asked us about it on June 6. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order.
Like several other companies, we have asked the U.S. government for permission to report how many requests we receive related to national security and how we handle them. We have been authorized to share some of that data, and we are providing it here in the interest of transparency.
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. 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.
Regardless of the circumstances, our Legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities. In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it.
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. There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it.
For example, conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.
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.