In the wake of the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) PRISM scandal, tech heavyweights are scrambling to respond to allegations that U.S. government agencies have privileged access to user data. Apple shot down the notion in a statement that addressed the recent controversies surrounding U.S. intelligence gathering.
Apple was caught up in the widening PRISM controversy following reports that the NSA could collect data directly from the servers powering some of the tech industry's biggest online services providers, including Facebook, Microsoft and Google.
"The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US Internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian. The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says," reported Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian.
Not so, countered Apple. "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," said the company in a posting on Apple.com.
Noting that the U.S. government agreed to allow the iPhone maker to share some statistics pertaining to requests for data related to national security, Apple revealed that it "received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data" from December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013. The company went on to disclose that the requests encompassed 9,000 to 10,000 "accounts or devices" and were initiated by "federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters."
Apple suggested that the bulk of those requests involved routine law enforcement activities. "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," stated the company.
Apple asserts that its legal team handles each and every request, occasionally refusing to fulfill requests because of "inconsistencies or inaccuracies." If and when the company shares data with law enforcement and U.S. government agencies, it "delivers the narrowest possible set of information," claims Apple.
Moreover, there's some customer information Apple doesn't supply simply because it doesn't hang on to it as a matter of course.
"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," said Apple.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Enterprise Apps Today and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.