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Apple reports most national security orders ever this year

In the company’s biannual transparency report, classified demands from the government more than tripled compared with the same period last year.

Apple reported more than 13,000 national security requests in the first half of 2017. That's more than triple the amount from the same period last year.

James Martin/CNET

The US government set a new record for Apple, by submitting more national security requests than ever before.

On Thursday, Apple released its biannual transparency report, which details how frequently it gets requests for customer data from governments and private parties. With more than a billion iOS devices active around the world, governments are increasingly looking to Apple and its technology to gain information about people.

In the first half of 2017, from Jan. 1 to June 30, Apple received 13,250-13,499 national security requests from the US government, according to the report. The demands affected between 9,000 and 9,249 people using Apple's devices.

That's more than double the number of requests Apple reported for the last half of 2016. And it's triple the amount of requests from the first half of last year. During this same time period in 2016, Apple received 2,750 to 2,999 national security orders

This is the most national security orders Apple has ever reported. The reporting period covers former President Barack Obama's last 20 days in office, and the first 160 days of President Donald Trump's administration. It's unclear how many requests came from each administration. So far this year, Apple has complied with 70 percent of the requests. 

The Justice Department declined to comment on the increased number of national security requests.

Apple reports national security requests in bands of 250. These requests include orders received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and national security letters, which don't need a judge's approval because they're issued by the FBI. The company says it would like to be more specific but can't because of legal restrictions.

"By law, this is the most precise information we are currently allowed to disclose," Apple said in the report.

Apple isn't the only company that's received national security letters. Twitter disclosed in January that it received two from the FBI in the last two years that previously came with gag orders not to discuss them. Google, Yahoo and Cloudflare also have published national security letters received from the FBI, some dating back to 2013.  

Requests from law enforcement worldwide also increased. Apple disclosed that it received 30,814 demands for 233,052 devices in the first half of 2017. That's up slightly from Apple's report on the later half of 2016, but less than the 33,006 device requests reported in the year-ago period. Examples of these requests include law enforcement helping customers track down lost or stolen devices, as well as requests related to fraud investigations, Apple said in the report. 

First published Sept. 28, 10:33 a.m. PT
Update, 10:38 a.m.: Adds that the Justice Department declined to comment.

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