Apple's worldwide national security report shows drop in data requests as pandemic spread

But the company's biannual transparency report shows that governments worldwide still ask for data from tens of thousands of users.

Ian Sherr
Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
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Apple reports the number of government data requests it receives, though the company is often kept from sharing details.


Apple published its transparency report for the first half of 2020 on Friday, giving insight into how many requests for individual data it receives from governments and private parties in litigation around the world. The company said government requests had targeted 171,368 devices, a drop of 12% from the same time in 2019. Apple provided data including which customers are associated with which devices, as well as purchases, customer service and repair info, to these governments 80 percent of the time, again slightly lower than the same time in 2019.

The data, albeit opaque because Apple is often kept from sharing details, offers another view of how the coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of billions of people. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic halfway through the Jan. 1 - June 30, 2020, period that Apple's report covers, and governments around the world quickly began shifting into lockdowns. Researchers closely watching US government data noticed that as the virus spread, overall crime started to fall. TechCrunch earlier sported the Apple report.

Germany made the most requests for device data, according to Apple's report, asking for details for 19,633 devices, down from 21,368 in 2019. But the United States asked for details from 97,439, a significant uptick from the 11,457 it asked for during the same time in 2019.

Governments worldwide asked for details from 31,200 accounts in the first six months of 2020, seeking data from iCloud or iTunes, for example. Apple complied 85% of the time. The US asked for data from 18,609 accounts, the most of any other country and a 20% jump from the same period in 2019.

Apple said national security-related requests made by the US under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) targeted 20,999 accounts, whether for photos, emails, device backups or other content. Apple said it received one National Security Letter from the FBI for information that could include subscriber data, on May 14, 2020. Apple didn't say how many accounts were targeted. The FBI doesn't need to seek a court order for a National Security Order.