The tech titans caught up in the ongoing US surveillance storm have forged deals with the US government to release more information about how many requests for user data they receive from the Obama administration.
Apple, Facebook and Microsoft released the information, having already denied they gave the US National Security Agency (NSA) direct access to servers as part of the PRISM programme.
The latest releases most likely include FISA surveillance requests, although, Microsoft noted that is is still not permitted to say whether it had actually received any. “If we were to have received any they would now be included in our aggregate volumes,” it confirmed.
Microsoft said that in the second half of 2012, it received between 6,000 and 7,000 “criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts” from US government organisations.
“However, we continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues,” said John Frank, vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft, in a blog post.
Apple said it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from US law enforcement for customer data between 1 December 2012 and 31 May 2013.
“Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters,” Apple said.
“The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.”
Apple said it could not decrypt anything sent over iMessage and FaceTime as they were “protected by end-to-end encryption”, meaning users should be protected from US surveillance. Apple rarely talks about how it does encryption, but its latest comments would indicate it does not hold the keys, which would be positive for privacy conscious people.
Facebook said that in the second half of 2012, it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests, affecting between 18,000 and 19,000 account
“This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds,” added Ted Ullyot, Facebook general counsel.
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