Why did one of the world’s largest tech companies take so long? In another in several announcements from large tech companies about government demands for private information about customers and customer devices, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) released a statement that said:
From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. 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 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.
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. In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it.
Tech companies including Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT), Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) at first denied cooperation with the government in a huge effort by the NSA to track terrorism via examinations of vast amounts of data. After it came to light that hundreds if not thousands of requests had been made, managements of these companies said they would never violate the privacy of their customers. Then, each company began to back off those claims. Several admitted government requests. And then, each said it wanted to report to the public the nature and number of those queries.
Apple is another case in which customers might well ask why it took so long to admit to the customers the nature of requests that stretch back to last year. This type of problem has harmed relationships with customers at all large tech firms, and, if further revelations about what the government took from them come to light, could harm these relationships more.
We will continue to work hard to strike the right balance between fulfilling our legal responsibilities and protecting our customers’ privacy as they expect and deserve.
Not much comfort to Apple customers who believed information about them was absolutely safe.