Apple recently posted an open letter to its website entitled “Apple’s Commitment to Customer Privacy,” in which the Cupertino, Calif. company clarifies its practices of customer data sharing with the U.S. government, U.S. law enforcement, and the National Security Agency’s secret “PRISM” program.
In the letter, Apple notes that it first heard of PRISM back when news organizations asked the company about the program, on June 6. Apple asserts: “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.”
The company goes on, however, to disclose further details concerning government requests for customer data:
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 adds that it “has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data,” stating that 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.” The letter explains:
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.
Finally, Apple notes: “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.”
Rather understandably, news of the NSA’s PRISM software worried users of consumer technology around the world. Reportedly in operation since 2007, it was previously understood that the program is able to tap into the customer data of Google, Apple, Facebook, and others, according to an article published in the Guardian.