Apple Reveals Its Spying Numbers for 2013 (So Far)

Quickly following alleged PRISM pals Microsoft and Facebook, Apple just won government permission and disclosed a chunk of its data: here's a (very) rough idea of how many of our iPhones are under surveillance.

The statement begins with some Huh? What's Prism? boilerplate:

We first heard of the government’s “Prism” program when news organizations asked us about it on June 6. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order.

Right right. But then Apple jumps into real numbers:

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.

Like Facebook, Apple wants us to know that mundane stuff like missing children and car theft is probably mixed in there along with pressing NSA, Jack Bauer stuff. But still, here we have a good glimpse: somewhere between nine and 10 thousand Apple gadgets were targeted by the government through the tail end of last year and the first half of this one. That's a very small number of Apple devices out of the millions upon millions in human hands. Apple also revealed some kinds of information it never has to begin with:

Conversations 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. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.

Now this is interesting. iMessage seems like it'd be the juiciest stuff for prying law enforcement eyes, but if that's off the table, what would feds want? Emails and browser history seem like another obvious target, which means Apple could provide some means of siphoning that info from your phone without warning. We don't know. We also don't know how many of these requests were fulfilled, to what extent, to which agencies, who the owners were, why the owners were targeted, or pretty much every other pertinent detail beyond a ranged number. It's a start!

We still need to know more.