Apple transparency reports allude to Patriot Act demands

A "warrant canary" stating that Apple has "never received an order" under the Patriot Act is missing from its latest two reports -- suggesting such demands have been made.

Apple may be attempting to hint at something it cannot disclose publicly, for fear of government retribution. CNET

Apple removed text from its latest transparency reports, which suggests that the company has received a top secret data demand.

These so-called "warrant canaries" can be issued ahead of a Patriot Act demand, because technology companies are not allowed to disclose whether or not they have received such an order.

Apple, however, preemptively asserted it "never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act," in its debut transparency report in November 2013.

That text has now been removed from its latest two reports, suggesting Apple has, in the second-half of 2013 onwards, received such an order.

Apple does add in its report covering the first half of 2014 that, "To date, Apple has not received any orders for bulk data," suggesting a broad-ranging warrant was not served.

Patriot Act requests are highly controversial. Section 215 particularly raises eyebrows, as it allows the US National Security Agency to hand over "all tangible things," including customer data and business records.

By going to the secretive Washington D.C.-based Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the government's go-to court for surveillance requests, a Section 215 order can be filed in secret and force a company, like Apple, to hand over data.

The "bulk metadata" program, which forced phone giant Verizon to hand over on an ongoing basis its entire store of phone call data, was authorized under Section 215. The program was first disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.

The removal of the warrant canary, first reported by Gigaom, in conjunction with a major push by Apple over the past day to inform its customers about data requests, and a lengthy interview with PBS' Charlie Rose (you can read part one and part two here) suggests that Apple may be silently screaming about something it cannot disclose publicly, for fear of government retribution.

We've put questions in to Apple and will update once we know more.

This story originally appeared as "Apple omits 'warrant canary' from latest transparency reports; Patriot Act data demands likely made" on ZDNet.