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Apple, Microsoft, Facebook release new details on national security requests

Apple on Sunday released new details on U.S. government data requests. The tech giant joins Facebook, Google and Microsoft in asking for permission to release more information on national security requests, in an attempt to provide more transparency following allegations that the National Security Agency (NSA) had direct access to its servers.

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On June 6, the Guardian and the Washington Post reported that the NSA and FBI had a direct line to the central servers of Apple, AOL, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Paltalk, Skype, Yahoo and YouTube -- as part of a surveillance program called PRISM.

All of the companies issued statements denying the claims that the U.S. government had direct access to their servers, but did say that they do hand over data in compliance with the law. If the companies were presented with a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) request for information, however, they would be barred from acknowledging the court order exists or disclosing to the public the existence of the request.

Facebook and Microsoft say they were granted permission from the U.S. government to disclose more information about FISA requests and national security letters, but only if aggregated with criminal requests from local, state and federal law enforcement. Google on Saturday said it already publishes that data, and is still awaiting permission to publish FISA disclosures separately.


Apple said in a statement that from Dec. 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013 it has received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests for customer data from federal, state and local authorities. Of those requests, between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified. The requests include both criminal investigations and national security matters.

The company says some information is off limits to law enforcement because it does not store the data. The tech giant says does not hand over data from iMessage or Facetime because those applications have end-to-end encryption, which cannot be decrypted by Apple.

Apple says it does not store information collected by Siri, map searches or customers' location. However, the company has admitted to storing encrypted data from Siri in the past. In a Wired article published in April, an Apple spokesperson said that the company stores "anonymized" data from Siri for up to two years.


Microsoft released a statement on Friday saying that over a six-month period, ending on Dec. 31, 2012, it received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders, affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 customer accounts from local, state and federal government agencies. The company says it has not received the same type of national security orders as Verizon, which asked for business records about U.S. citizens.

Microsoft is the parent company of Skype, which was also implicated in the allegations of government surveillance.


Facebook published a similar statement on Friday, saying that in the six-month period, ending on Dec. 31, 2012, it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests for data from local, state and federal government agencies. Of those requests, data from 18,000 to 19,000 Facebook accounts were requested.

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