updated 04:50 pm EST, Tue November 5, 2013
Apple claims to have never received a Patriot Act request for user data
Apple has published a report on US government and law enforcement information requests that have been submitted to it. The report provides statistics on requests related to customer accounts, as well as those related to specific devices, limited by legal restrictions applied to it regarding disclosure.
The US government forbids Apple from disclosing "except in broad ranges" the number of orders received, the number of accounts affected, or the type of data revealed by Apple. Apple notes in the report that the company "strongly opposes 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."
Apple claims that most of the requests for information are related to investigations on lost or stolen devices -- these are referred to as device requests, and are made when "customers ask the police to assist them with a lost or stolen iPhone, or when law enforcement has recovered a shipment of stolen devices." The company says that only a small fraction of the requests it processes is related to personal information collection by law enforcement, and "generally involve account holders' personal data and their use of an online service in which they have an expectation of privacy, such as government requests for customer identifying information, email, stored photographs, or other user content stored online." Apple calls this type of request "account requests."
Of note, Apple claims to have never received an order under Section 215 of the Patriot Act -- the controversial law that allows the FBI to seize information as long as it specifies that "the order is 'for an authorized investigation'" in order to "protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities" without probable cause. Apple states that it will challenge any such request it may receive.