Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Apple - The Guardian of Your Privacy

Recent news on the FBI's $1.3 million plus hack into Apple's flagship product got me wondering how many requests Apple gets from governments around the world for its customers' content.  This is a subject of some concern given the revelations of Edward Snowden back in 2013 and the ongoing inability of the world's government security apparatus to put a dent in terrorist activities.   In its latest transparency report for the period from January 1 to June 30, 2015, Apple reports the following government requests for information on its customer base:

1.) Device requests: The majority of these relate to information about stolen or lost Apple devices and may include customer contact information that was provided to Apple when the device was registered by the owner.  Here is a table showing how many law enforcement device requests Apple received in the first half of 2015 by nation:

The largest number of requests come from Germany at 9659 followed by the United States at 3824, however, Australia is not far behind at 2986.  This is surprising given that Germany has about 25 percent of the population of the United States and Australia has roughly 7 percent of the population of the United States.  It is also interesting to note that Apple complies with only 53 percent of the law enforcement requests that are sourced in Germany compared to 81 percent to those sourced in the United States, the highest level among the nations with a high request total.

2.) Account requests: These requests usually involve information about an account holder's iCloud or  iTunes account, for example, a name and address.  In some cases, Apple is asked to provide the actual content of a customer's iCloud account including emails, documents, photos, contacts and iOS backups.  Obviously, these requests are far more invasive and Apple may provide account access when the request is a search warrant.  Here is a table showing how many account requests Apple received in the first half of 2015 by nation:

The United States alone had 971 law enforcement account requests in the first half of 2015 compared to 696 for the remainder of the world.  Again, Apple provided account information for 81 percent of the requests in the United States, by far the highest level among major requesting nations.  Of the 2727 American accounts that were specified in the requests, Apple released data for 1407 accounts or 51.6 percent of the total and released no data for only 181 accounts.  Apple also objected to only 116 account requests or 4.3 percent of the total for the United States.  

3.) Emergency requests:  These requests are made by governments in cases where Apple believes that an "emergency involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires such a disclosure without delay".  Here is a table showing the number of emergency requests received during the first half of 2015 by nation:

Once again, the United States is in first place with 107 emergency requests followed by the United Kingdom with 98 and Canada with 14.

4.) National Security requests: These requests include all FISA and National Security Letters.  In the first half of 2015, Apple received between 750 and 999 national security orders that affected between 250 and 499 accounts.  By law, Apple is not allowed to be more specific about the exact number of national security requests; the bands of 250 requests are the narrowest range allowed by the federal government.

It is interesting to note that, by a wide margin, Apple is asked to release information by American authorities far more often than other nations, including China which is not exactly known for its shining human rights record.  The requests for the private content of Apple's customers should be of great concern to Apple users around the world; with law enforcement around the world finding itself unable to preempt significant terrorist acts, one has to wonder how important this personal information has been in the fight against terrorism and violent non-terrorist attacks.


  1. This is very interesting to see some of the provisions and the laws that each government and Apple have in place when it comes to this... In all honesty, the SB shooter story had far more controversy than was warranted. There was (potentially) information about a terrorist attack. BUT, this had already occurred which would make it literally impossible to intervene after the fact.. Maybe there just needs to be other provisions put in place, because in my opinion, this is a horrible invasion of privacy for anyone that owns apple devices.

  2. I had my first and last brush with Apple yesterday. Installed itunes and rolled my music over from Windows Media Player. No album covers. To get album covers from Apple, I needed an Apple ID which demanded my credit card information. Then it noted it would record the names of my albums I requested covers for. Then it refused the first 10 I requested. After much frustration I found a number to call Apple and have the Apple ID removed permanently (I hope). It required a specialist. these guys are worse than the CIA or are they part of them?