Apple Sees Large Rise In US National Security Requests

Company increasingly has to hand over iCloud data to authorities, but it still cannot unlock passcode protected iPhones

Apple has revealed a steep rise in national security requests from the US government, after it released its twice yearly transparency report on government data requests.

For the July to December 2017 period, Apple said it had received as many as 16,249 national security requests, which affected up to 8,249 accounts.

This was a 20 percent increase from first half of 2017, and reflects the fact that the iPad maker is increasingly been called upon to provide data on its customers.

National security

It should be noted that ALL American firms can be compelled on national security grounds to hand over data on their servers when requested by US officials.

However, it cannot unlock a locked iPhone that has been passcode protected. This led to a prolonged clash with the FBI and US government in 2016, when it refused to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist, Syed Rizwan Farook.

Another point to note is that Apple, like other US tech firms, is also not allowed to disclose the specific number of requests received, so it reveals the narrowest range of requests it can.

Last September for example Apple had reported a record number of national security requests, after it received 30,814 requests worldwide for data from 233,052 devices. It admitted at the time that it had provided data 80 percent of the time (in 23,856 cases).

But for the second half of 2017 it received 29,718 requests in total, and provided data 79 percent of the time.

Personal data

Apple also received 3,358 requests to access personal iCloud data in the second-half of 2017, with about half of these coming from the United States (1790). The UK requested 295 in comparison.

Apple challenged 224 of these 3,358 requests, and there were 600 cases where no data was provided by Apple.

However, Apple did turn over iCloud customer data in 717 of these requests. In 2,041 others, the company said it had provided non-content data.

The information turned over includes “stored photos, email, iOS device backups, contacts or calendars.”

“Apple is very seriously committed to protecting your data and we work hard to deliver the most secure hardware, software and services available,” it said in the report. “ This report provides information regarding requests Apple received from government agencies and private parties from July 1 through December 31, 2017.”

Despite its refusal to co-operate with the FBI over the San Bernardino terrorist, Apple does usually comply with lawful orders around the world.

Last year for example, Apple took down virtual private networking apps, or VPNs, from its App Store in China in order to comply with a new Chinese cyber security law.

Can you protect your privacy online? Take our quiz!