Apple stats reveals Government data requests increase

The number of customer data requests being received by Apple from the US Government has grown rapidly over the past year, according to new data released by the company.

It comes in their biannual Report on Government Information requests, which always makes for extremely interesting reading.

Device data requests

It states that in the period between January 1st and June 30th, 2016, they received 4,822 separate data requests relating to 10,260 separate devices. This is a 26% increase on the same six-month period in the previous year.

Apple also confirms the number of requests in which some or all data requested in handed over and for the US requests it was in just 53% of requests received. Data on a total of 3,742 was handed over in total.

The standout figures in the report relate to Germany, where the state made a remarkable 12,633 requests for device data. These requests related to 52,095 separate devices, and whilst it should be noted that Apple device ownership in Germany is quite high, this is still a massive number of requests.

The Germans were also successful in 53% of their requests but received data from just 6,733 separate devices.

By comparison to the Americans and the Germans, the UK was a little more restrained in its request, which is perhaps not what you would expect from the country which has just passed one of the most intrusive surveillance laws anywhere in the world.

The UK Government has made 1,497 requests relating to 5,961 devices and enjoyed a similar success rate of 54% with data on 806 devices being handed over.

Account Data Requests

The data for requests for Apple account data returns to the sort of patterns you would expect.

The US Government made the most requests, and by some distance. They made 1,363 requests relating to 9,090 accounts and received data in 84% of these requests relating to 7,963 accounts. This total was more requests than the rest of the world put together.

Training in a distant second was the UK with data being handed over in 67% of the 271 requests received.

Apple also released figures on the number of emergency requests they have received from governments. These are requests where it is thought that the case involves and immediate risk of death of serious injury.

The USA made 96 such requests, while the UK was second with 58. No other country made more than four and the total of the rest of the world combined was just 17.

Analysis

What this data tells you depends very much on the perspective you take on the matter. On the one hand, it could be concluded that the USA and the UK (along with Germany) have the most thorough and robust intelligence agencies capable of identifying suspect devices much more efficiently than other countries.

However, their percentage success rate suggests that maybe they are a little bit too gung-ho in seeking out personal data from Apple devices (and presumably other manufacturers as well) and that their lax approach to personal privacy continues into this domain as well.

When this data is coupled with the hugely intrusive surveillance regimes both countries have in place these days and it is easy to conclude that the later argument is much more convincing.

For those consumers using Apple devices, it is reassuring to see in these figures that Apple is not a company which rolls over when the Government comes calling, but rather is willing to stand up for user privacy.

But the data still highlights the importance of users taking steps, such as using a VPN, to protect their own personal data from the prying eyes of over-zealous state intelligence agencies.

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