US tech giant Apple (AAPL) received over the last six months between 4,000 and 5,000 surveillance requests from U.S. law enforcement about its customers, the company said on Monday.
The iPhone maker’s disclosure comes after Facebook (FB) and Microsoft (MSFT) revealed on Friday the numbers of requests for private information about customers and customer devices they had received. The software giant revealed that it received 6,000-7,000 U.S. surveillance requests for user data, affecting 31,000-32,000 accounts during the second half of 2012, while Facebook revealed that up to 19,000 user accounts were queried by the U.S. law enforcement during the same period.
“We have asked the U.S. government for permission to report how many requests we receive related to national security and how we handle them. We have been authorized to share some of that data,” Apple said in a statement released on the company’s website.
Apple goes on to say that “From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, [it] received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from US law enforcement for customer data. 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.”
The most common form of request came from police investigating crimes, searching for missing children, locating patients with Alzheimer’s disease, or trying to prevent a suicide, the statement said.
Apple stressed that each request was evaluated on its merits and assured customers that it never gave U.S. authorities direct access to its servers.
“Regardless of the circumstances, our legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities,” the statement said. “In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it.”
Apple also specified certain types of communications which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are “protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them.”
“Apple cannot decrypt that data,” the statement said.
“Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.”
The statement ends with Apple pledging to “continue to work hard to strike the right balance between fulfilling [its] legal responsibilities and protecting [its] customers’ privacy as they expect and deserve”.
It’s worth noting that Apple’s ‘commitment to customer privacy’ doesn’t mean much at this point to those customers who believed information about them was completely safe.