Following recent controversy surrounding the U.S. government's "Prism" program, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has detailed its policies and information surrounding customer privacy and government data collection.
After obtaining permission from the federal government to release the information, the company said that between Dec. 1, 2012, and May 31, 2013, it had received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data, which included 9,000 to 10,000 specific accounts or devices. The requests came from federal, state, and local authorities and related to criminal investigations and national security, according to Apple.
"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," said the company. Apple said it does not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order.
Apple said it evaluates each request and only releases the minimum amount of data possible, and occasionally refuses to release information if it sees "inconsistencies or inaccuracies." The company also noted that certain data, such as iMessage and FaceTime conversations, are protected with end-to-end encryption that not even Apple can decrypt. Apple also doesn't store location data, Map searches, or Siri requests in "any identifiable form," it said.
The disclosure follows similar ones from peers like Microsoft and Facebook. For the six-month period ending Dec. 12, 2012, Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 national or criminal security warrants, subpoenas, and orders, that company said. Facebook reported that it received between 9,000 and 10,000 government security requests for data during the six-month period ending Dec. 31, 2012. The security requests affected between 18,000 and 19,000 customer accounts, according to Facebook.
Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.