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Apple Report Condemns Security Gag Order

Tom Risen

Apple continued its push for greater transparency about government spying by publishing a new report Wednesday detailing data requests from law enforcement agencies in 31 countries, with the U.S. leading the list in seeking information about the company's devices and accounts.

Apple's report explains government data requests about personal devices including the iPhone, and personal accounts for Apple services including iTunes, iCloud or Game Center. Companies that publish similar transparency reports include Google, Yahoo and Facebook.

Revelations that the National Security Agency may have tapped cables between the data centers of Yahoo and Google spurred Apple to join those tech giants and other companies in mailing letters to several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 31, pressuring them to add greater transparency, oversight and accountability to government surveillance programs. The letter was also signed by Microsoft, AOL and Facebook.

[READ: Washington Post: NSA Spying Included Major Internet Giants]

National security rules limit what information requests Apple can legally disclose, and the company called for an end to that gag order in its report on Wednesday.

"We strongly oppose this gag order, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts," according to the report.

Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the report clarified. The Patriot Act section allows for the collection of "tangible things" relevant to a government investigation, which is a lower threshold than the standard requirement of "probable cause" to request information.

"We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us," Apple included in the report.

Apple stopped short of suing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for the right to publicly disclose the amount of user data requests those companies receive from the government, but has filed an amicus brief in support of that effort. Yahoo, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have each sued the FISC for that right.

[READ: Privacy Pros and Cons of the iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner]

"We believe that dialogue and advocacy are the most productive way to bring about a change in these policies, rather than filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government," the report said.

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2013, Apple received requests for information related to approximately 2,000 to 3,000 accounts from U.S. law enforcement, and provided information on fewer than 1,000 accounts. Law enforcement in the U.K. requested information on 141 accounts, the highest number from any government outside of the U.S., while Apple provided information on 51 of those accounts. Some governments did not request information from the company.

Apple explained that device requests are much more common than account information requests, and sought to set itself apart from other tech giants and highlight itself as less vulnerable to government data requests explaining in the report that "our business does not depend on collecting personal data."

"We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers," according to the report. "We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form."

[READ: NSA Denies It Accesses Global Data Centers of Yahoo, Google]

Device requests are often made when customers ask police to find lost or stolen iPhones, or when law enforcement recovers a shipment of stolen devices, the report said. Device requests can involve multiple devices but never include national security-related requests, the report said.

Between Jan. 1, and June 30, 2013, U.S. law enforcement made 3,542 requests for information about devices , while Apple provided information on fewer than 3,110 requests. . Law enforcement in Germany, Brazil and Italy made requests that would have impacted the greatest number of devices, according to the report besides requests for information made by U.S. law enforcement.

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