Apple Inc. (AAPL), the world’s most-valuable technology company, received as many as 5,000 requests for customer information from U.S. law enforcement authorities amid widening revelations of government data collection.
Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in the requests between Dec. 1 and May 31, the Cupertino, California-based company said in a statement. Facebook Inc. (FB) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) said they received thousands of warrants for data from government entities during the second half of 2012.
The role of technology companies has come under scrutiny since Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency, disclosed this month that the NSA is collecting data under a U.S. government program code-named PRISM. The project traces its roots to warrantless domestic-surveillance efforts under former President George W. Bush.
“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,” Apple said in the statement. “We have been authorized to share some of that data, and we are providing it here in the interest of transparency.”
Apple said it hadn’t heard of PRISM until June 6 when news organizations asked it questions. Requests came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal and national security matters, it said. Police investigations into crimes such as robbery were the most-common form of request, it said.
Apple sold 125 million iPhones and 58 million iPad tablet computers last financial year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
No government agency has direct access to Apple servers and it doesn’t store data related to customers’ location, map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form, the company said.
Conversations over the iMessage and FaceTime functions are protected by end-to-end encryption, which means only the sender and receiver can see or read them, and Apple can’t decrypt the data, the company said.
PRISM gathers e-mails, videos and other private data of foreign surveillance targets through arrangements that vary by company, overseen by a secret panel of judges, according to slides provided by Snowden to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers.
Facebook got 9,000 to 10,000 requests, while Microsoft got 6,000 to 7,000, their legal executives said in blog posts.
Google Inc. (GOOG), Facebook and Microsoft asked the U.S. government for more leeway to report aggregate numbers of data requests, following reports that the NSA is collecting millions of residents’ telephone records and the Web communications of foreigners under court order.
Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, said it complied with 79 percent of the requests. Inquiries sent to Facebook covered between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts and included everything from local governments to NSA requests, according to the company.
Microsoft said the data-security warrants affected 31,000 to 32,000 consumer accounts.
Google, in response to Facebook and Microsoft’s disclosures, said it’s pushing authorities to let it differentiate between varying types of government requests.
“Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately,” the Mountain View, California-based company said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The three-decade-old FISA law lets intelligence agencies monitor the communications of non-U.S. citizens reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. and involved in terrorist activities or other crimes.
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