For example, Apple has released a statement saying that between Dec. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013, it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies for customer data. Those requests represented somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts.
But that’s about all Apple is able to reveal at this time. The company, which claims it never even heard of the Internet-snooping Prism program until you, me, and the rest of the world read about it on June 6, doesn’t even say how many of these requests were made by which agency — or even which ones are from federal, state, or local authorities.
The company admits that the requests run the gamut from preventing suicide to matters of national security, and does say that, “The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes.” However, it doesn’t say whether “most common” means that these requests make up the majority of requests, or just the highest percentage.
It’s worth noting that Apple did not exactly score very well on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s recent report card of online businesses that protect consumers against invasive government requests.
While Facebook revealed on Friday that it complied with around 79% of the 9,000-10,0000 requests it received from the government in the second half of 2012, Apple does not give any indication of how many data requests it fulfilled for the various agencies, other than to say that its 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.”
The company did try once again to quell any consumer concern by restating, “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.”
Of course, Apple and the other companies may be constrained about what they can and can not tell consumers. Without knowing how many, if any, of these requests were classified, we’re just looking at a bunch of almost meaningless numbers.
Facebook and Microsoft have both stated that they believe they should be able to reveal more information about classified requests from federal agencies.
“We continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues,” writes Microsoft deputy general counsel John Frank.
Google, which has previously issued transparency reports on law enforcement requests, has been the loudest voice in calling on the feds to allow the company to be more transparent about classified requests.
“Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] disclosures, separately,” said a Google rep in a statement.