When reports surfaced that several large companies, including Apple, were participating in a program that gives the National Security Agency direct access to their servers the iPhone and Mac maker denied any involvement. Now Apple has issued a public statement that not only denies participation, but goes on to say that it didn't even know of PRISM before the news reports, and sometimes refuses to fulfill government requests for information.
Apple flat-out denies knowing about NSA's PRISM program
The company said in a statement,
Two weeks ago, when technology companies were accused of indiscriminately sharing customer data with government agencies, Apple issued a clear response: 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.
Apple went on to say that it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies from December 1, 2012 through May 31, 2013, and that those requests included between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices. The information requests ranged from criminal investigations and national security concerns, and the most common requests came 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."
Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook were accused of voluntarilly giving the NSA direct access to their company servers earlier in June. The program, dubbed PRISM, reportedly gives the NSA a back door into the user data so the agency can essentially track the activities of the company's customers without requiring a court order. At the time, Apple said it didn't know of any such program and that, "We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order."
Google also said that it hasn't given the agency a back door into customer data.
The purpose of the PRISM program is to collect and search through data to find patterns that could indicate terrorist activity. While the idea that protecting people from potential terrorst attacks seems reasonable, the notion that the government is attempting to do so by accessing personal information without a search warrant isn't sitting well with political analysts and some U.S. citizens.
Some information users are concerned about keeping private may not even be an issue, at least for Apple customers because some types of information aren't available to law enforcement agencies, or anyone else, because Apple doesn't maintain those records, or they're in an encrypted format that the company isn't able to decipher -- such as iMessage and FaceTime chats. Location, Maps and Siri data is stored, but not in a way that would allow anyone to link it to a specific person.
Explicitly stating that it hadn't heard of PRISM and doesn't participate in the program is reassuring, but that may not be enough to keep the Apple out of court. Apple, CEO Tim Cook, President Barak Obama, as well as other companies and leaders have been named in a US$20 billion class-action lawsuit over privacy violation related to PRISM. The lawsuit was filed by Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman who said the government's "Orwellian power grab" must be stopped.
When a report surfaced in early June that the NSA had a court order requiring Verizon to hand over large amounts of activity data for all of its subscribers, and to keep quiet about the activity, the carrier -- along with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint -- replied to The Mac Observer's questions about thier involvement with "no comment," which fit with reports that they were under gag orders preventing them from making any kind of statement about the warrents. With Apple's categorical denial of any involvement in PRISM, there can't be any sort of gag order in place, and with a statement this clear the company would be taking a huge risk if it were lying.
If the NSA really is collecting user data on a massive scale, it's more likely the information is being intercepted outside of Apple as it routes through the Internet, and that's very likely for the other companies named in the PRISM report, too. The NSA may very well be harvesting data to track the activities of U.S. citizens, but if Apple can be believed, that information isn't coming directly from its servers.