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Apple Inc.'s Number of Government Data Requests Lags Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corporation


Apple received fewer account data requests from governmental agencies compared to its big tech peers, the company says.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) received 4,000 to 5,000 requests from US law enforcement agencies for customer data on 9,000 to 10,000 accounts or devices from December 2012 to the end of May 2013, the company said in a statement Monday.

That's a number that's roughly two times shy of the 18,000-19,000 accounts that Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) was asked about, and three times shy of the 31,000-32,000 accounts Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) had to look up for the government in the second half of 2012. However, these periods don't overlap much.

The number Apple disclosed was a lump sum of requests from criminal investigations and national security matters. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) said that posting aggregate numbers doesn't make much sense. Google and Facebook recently asked the government for permission to publish separate data about national security requests.

Apple said that the most common types of requests came 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 reiterated that it does not provide any government agencies with "direct access" to its servers and that all requests for customer data have to be backed by court orders.

The company said that some types of content are not even collected or maintained, such as fully encrypted FaceTime or iMessage conversations, location data, or Siri requests. It's worth noting, however, that Apple was previously caught and even sued for collecting and storing location data on its devices. The company had to update iOS to address the concerns.

"We will continue to work hard to strike the right balance between fulfilling our legal responsibilities and protecting our customers' privacy," said Apple in today's statement.

Apple was the third company to report disclosures after Facebook and Microsoft did so on Friday afternoon. Google has already been publishing similar data about government requests (excluding national security letters) in its Transparency Report for three years.

A huge public debate about the scale and nature of cooperation between government security agencies and tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), and Microsoft was provoked by the leaks engineered by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. According to the material he provided, tech giants had allegedly participated in the National Security Agency PRISM operation, reportedly allowing government officials to tap into private user data.

The companies unanimously denied participation in the program and said that no "direct access" was provided. However, some reports suggested that the tech companies collaborated with security agencies indirectly. The exact nature and scale of surveillance measures remain blurry. But in the Q&A session with Guardian readers today, Snowden said, "Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."

Are there more leaks to come?

See also: Let's Thank the NSA for Showing Us the Real Cost of Big Data and Google CEO's Reaction to PRISM Surveillance Allegations: 'What the ...?'
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