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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    out_of_the_blue, Nov 6th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    We've NO way of verifying any of this. Sheer PR.

    And in any case, NONE of those mega-corporations are telling us how much they co-operate with NSA, it's always carefully couched in terms of coercion, which itself implies a larger willing co-operation.

    But Mike Romney thinks corporations are persons complete with rights and morals and can be trusted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2013 @ 9:07am

    So, by implication, can we take it they have received orders under section 702?

    After all they have not included any 'dead man's switch'referring to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2013 @ 9:32am

    It really isn't much of a dead-man's switch, since it will only be triggered if/when Apple feels like it.

    The point of a dead-man's switch is that it eliminates the need for operator intervention: it triggers whether you like it or not.

    It is more like a flag that you rise or lower depending on the circumstances. Flag up, everything is fine. Flag down, trouble.

    /end pedantic dick mode

    That said, we have no way to confirm that Apple is actually telling the while truth. We're just going to have to trust a mega-corporation to be honest. And we all know how that usually ends.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    BentFranklin (profile), Nov 6th, 2013 @ 9:33am

    I'm 99% certain that this will not work. Any order will surely include a directive to keep feeding the canary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Nov 6th, 2013 @ 9:36am

    Re: We've NO way of verifying any of this. Sheer PR.

    I wouldn't click report if you weren't always going out of your way to insult people. Just make your point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Michael, Nov 6th, 2013 @ 9:43am


    While that may make sense, there is such thing as a gag order (obviously), but nothing that even suggests it is within the government's power to issue an order for someone to actually lie about something.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 6th, 2013 @ 9:46am


    So, by implication, can we take it they have received orders under section 702?

    We pretty much know they have, since they're listed as a PRISM partner. Also, they just filed a brief in the lawsuit over the 702 gag orders... so... yeah.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Joe Dirt, Nov 6th, 2013 @ 9:55am

    Re: We've NO way of verifying any of this. Sheer PR.

    I think you might be mistaken concerning the issue about Corporations being people. The Supreme Court, since 1819, has held this view.

    ...and the actual encounter in Iowa, with Romney...

    'Romney explained that one way to fulfill promises on entitlement programs is to “raise taxes on people,” but before he could articulate his position on not raising taxes, someone interrupted.
    “Corporations!” a protester shouted, apparently urging Romney to raise taxes on corporations that have benefited from loopholes in the tax code. “Corporations!”
    “Corporations are people, my friend,” Romney said.
    Some people in the front of the audience shouted, “No, they’re not!”
    “Of course they are,” Romney said. “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?”' ey-private-sector-experience

    Please don't make things worse by twisting the truth to meet your need to belittle people that have a different point of view. We have enough elected talking mouths that do this to us on a daily basis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Falindraun (profile), Nov 6th, 2013 @ 10:15am

    Re: Re:

    thats why they call it blackmail

    "keep feeding the canary or we will ... " -some goverment stooge

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    gorehound (profile), Nov 6th, 2013 @ 11:46am

    All large Tech Companies need to join togther and all issue the FUCK OFF NSA Statement.Union of Tech is strong.........would be strong cause at this point in time you can't just shut the Tech down.

    Google,Apple,MS, and others all join hands and all raise the two fingered salute and do it now !!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Ninja (profile), Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:21am

    I never thought I'd praise Apple for doing something. And here I am.

    I'm jk, there's plenty of good things to say from Apple stuff even though I don't like some aspects of the company. This is one of those.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Jeffrey Hildebrand, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 8:16am

    Apple's Transparency Report

    Many people forget that libraries where early targets for Section 215. Here's another interesting take on this 'PR' from Apple.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Anonymous Monkey (profile), Nov 11th, 2013 @ 10:26am

    Re: Re: We've NO way of verifying any of this. Sheer PR.

    "I'll believe a Corporation is a person when Texas EXECUTES one!"

    -[Dunno who]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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