In a sign that the tech giants are beginning to fight back against oppressive government surveillance and interference in the wake of Edward Snowden’s on-going revelations about NSA and GHCQ mass spying programs, and the commensurate damage this has done to their reputations, Apple has released its first ever transparency report.
The report details how many requests were made of Apple by law enforcement agencies in different countries, together with information on how Apple responded to these requests. What immediately jumps out from the figures is the sheer number of requests made by United States law enforcement, with between one and two thousand requests made regarding two to three thousand user accounts!
Just to put this in perspective, the UK comes second on the list, but trails way behind with 127 requests regarding 141 user accounts, and total number worldwide (not including the US) is 719 requests regarding 769 accounts.
That the US figures are so vague is due to legal restrictions placed on Apple by the US government,
‘At the time of this report, the U.S. government does not allow Apple to disclose, except in broad ranges, the number of national security orders, the number of accounts affected by the orders, or whether content, such as emails, was disclosed’.
Apple is clearly in a fighting mood however, because the report goes on to explain that,
‘We strongly oppose this gag order, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts. Despite our extensive efforts in this area, we do not yet have an agreement that we feel adequately addresses our customers’ right to know how often and under what circumstances we provide data to law enforcement agencies.’
In addition to releasing this report, Apple has joined Dropbox in filing an amicus brief (which you can see here) in support of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinedIn, demanding that they be allowed greater transparency to disclose information requests in the US.
Referencing this amicus curiae in the report, Apple says that,
‘We believe that dialogue and advocacy are the most productive way to bring about a change in these policies, rather than filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government,’ and that ‘we feel strongly that the government should lift the gag order and permit companies to disclose complete and accurate numbers regarding FISA requests and National Security Letters. We will continue to aggressively pursue our ability to be more transparent.’
All this is heartening to see, as anger at the NSA and GHCQ’s assaults on privacy, freedom and the democratic process continues to rise. It has taken time, but with both tech giants and national governments showing increasing belligerence to US government strong-arming of the internet, it is just possible that real and meaningful changes to the way that the US government relates to the internet can be made.
You view the Apple transparency report in full here.