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Report reveals Apple’s co-operation with government on data disclosure

CALIFORNIA: Though Apple has created a lot of hype about its resistance against the efforts being made by the FBI to get information from iPhones by hacking into them, a recently released report offers a different picture. Apple’s biannual transparency report released on April 19, 2016 suggests that in the second half of 2015, law enforcement agencies silently made 4,000 National Security Requests involving 16,112 devices, and the company helped the agencies in majority of the cases.

Apple revealed that in 80% of the requests made in the second half of 2015, it disclosed only some data, while in the first of 2015, data was given for 81% of requests.

Apple stated that these requests involved looking for data associated with the iTunes or iCloud account of the user, and in both the cases, a search warrant was required. On its website, the company said that a very small proportion of requests from the agencies were related to information like email, images and other content on iCloud accounts of the user. Apple obliged 82% of such requests.

The increasing number of personal-data requests has caused anxiety among privacy advocates. Rising number of such requests is a point of concern, according to Alan Butler, Senior Counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“It highlights once again the transition we’re seeing from an old system, where law enforcement had to do a lot more work getting physical records or wiretaps, to now with these digital requests,” said Butler.

Senior Counsel Butler added that the cost being incurred to extract the data is much less since only a request needs to be sent and the information received is increasing with every passing day. Apple said that the user is informed before the information pertaining to him/her is disclosed after receiving a request from law enforcement agencies. Apple received 750-999 requests in the first half of 2015.

A report published in TheVerge revealed, “It’s unclear what might be behind the rise. Apple was restricted from reporting national security requests before 2015, a restriction that was lifted with the USA Freedom Act, so we have no earlier data to compare with today’s report. As a result, it’s possible that the first half of 2015 was abnormally low, or that the higher numbers have precedent in earlier years.”

Still, the period coincides with increasingly vocal criticisms of Apple encryption policy from law enforcement. With the wide release of iOS 8 in September 2014, agencies lost the ability to access messages and contacts stored locally on iPhones, an issue that came to a head with the San Bernardino case earlier this year. That issue would have affected law enforcement and national security agencies alike. Still, law enforcement requests to Apple remained relatively flat over the same period, rising from 971 to 1,015 requests received.

“Emergency requests, on the other hand, were even rarer: there were just 178 of these across the world, and all were complied with by Apple due to the “imminent danger or death” these threats posed,” according to a news report published by AppAdvice.

Of course, requests such as these have been in the media spotlight recently following the San Bernardino iPhone 5c case. Here, Apple was asked to aid the FBI in unlocking a suspect’s handset, but refused. Since, a draft bill that would force companies in a similar position to comply has been published (to, we might add, near-universal condemnation).

According to a report in ZDNet by Liam Tung, “Apple discloses the figures in its latest report outlining the total number of information requests from governments. The report covers requests by governments around the world between July 1 and December 31, 2015.”

The number of accounts affected is nearly double the figure for the first half of 2015, when Apple received 971 requests for 2,727 accounts. Apple reports the number of requests it receives for accounts and devices, as well as the number of national-security letters, emergency requests, and account-deletion requests.

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