Apple Puts Dead Man's Switch About Not Receiving PATRIOT Act Requests In Its Transparency Report
from the well,-look-at-that... dept
It’s a bit late, but it appears that Apple has finally caught up with Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo, as tech companies that have issued “transparency reports” about government requests for data (and, in some cases, for takedowns). The first Apple Transparency Report is pretty similar to the transparency reports issued by those other companies. As with the others, the US government only allows “ranges” of information to be released about certain kinds of reports, rather than exact numbers. And, of course, no companies are yet allowed to reveal the details of Section 702 orders — which are a part of the PRISM program. The various companies are suing the government over that one.
Some people have noted that Apple seems to get fewer requests than some other companies, but that doesn’t seem like an apples-to-apples comparison, since Apple’s main business is hardware, and its online services are much more limited and targeted than those other companies. But, there is one interesting tidbit in the report. Way down at the end it says the following:
Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.
Now, Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act is the so-called “business records” or “tangible things” clause, which is used to demand all the metadata from the various telcos (who appear to be happy to hand it over without complaint). There’s been no indication so far that the government has used 215 on the tech companies. PRISM all relates to Section 702 of the FAA, which the lawsuit mentioned above is about. And, of course, there are reports of the NSA using Executive Order 12333 to justify hacking into servers overseas, without companies even knowing about it. So, you can argue that whether or not any Section 215 orders were served on Apple is somewhat meaningless.
But… it appears that Apple has put this in the report as a sort of dead man’s switch, such as Cory Doctorow suggested a few months ago: for companies that have not received any such type of order, if they announce that publicly on a regular basis, if the next time they release a report it’s not in there, it becomes clear that they have received such an order, even if they’re gagged about it. This is also known as a warrant canary, and was originally suggested for libraries — who were afraid of Section 215 from the very beginning (early on, it was often referred to as the library clause), as people expected the feds to use it to spy on people’s library records.
While given the other programs this may not seem like a big deal, it’s nice to see Apple taking this particular step, even if small, to effectively protest against the 215 gag orders.