Apple Details What the NSA Took--And How Much of It

The impact of the NSA's secret surveillance through PRISM and other means has sent reverberations through out the tech industry and the world at large. The latest ripple: Apple's full accounting of its interactions with government spies in the past year or so. Here's what went down.

In an open letter entitled Apple's Commitment to Customer Privacy, the company issued denials and disclosures consistent with those that Facebook and Microsoft already had: Never heard of PRISM, no direct access to servers, court orders mandatory. And then come the numbers.

In the six-month period from December 1 of 2012 to May 31 of this year, Apple claims to have received between 4,000 and 5,000 government requests for consumer data, which applied to somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 unique devices. A very small percentage of Apple's multi-million user base! And the requests themselves are presented as innocuous as well:

Police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.

The news gets better; Apple states clearly that it does not share the content iMessage or FaceTime conversations (although surely the metadata is available), and that it doesn't store Maps, location, or Siri data in any way that could identify you.

If the disclosures all sound familiar, it's because everything from the number of requests to the type of data being fulfilled are remarkably similar to those reported by Facebook and Microsoft. And they're pretty small, relatively speaking! Then again, the actual number doesn't do anything to affect how off-putting the actual principle is behind the government's legally sound, nearly carte blanche access to your personal information.

It's also probably best not to sleep tight quite yet; remember that until last week, none of these companies had even heard of PRISM, despite being willing participants in it. If they're only just now finding out the name, it stands to reason that perhaps even they still have much to learn about the scope. [Apple]