Apple and other tech companies deny PRISM surveillance claims

This is a discussion on Apple and other tech companies deny PRISM surveillance claims within the Off-Topic forums, part of the Apple Forums category; Claims made by The Washington Post that the National Security Agency was tapping into the servers of nine tech companies for details of user activity ...

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    Apple and other tech companies deny PRISM surveillance claims



    Claims made by The Washington Post that the National Security Agency was tapping into the servers of nine tech companies for details of user activity have been denied by Apple and most of the other companies alleged to be involved.

    “We have never heard of PRISM,” said Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple. “We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”

    Similar denial statements have been issued by Yahoo, Dropbox, Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

    The Post published slides from what it said was a Powerpoint presentation detailing the top-secret program, in which it was implied that the companies listed were knowing participants …


    The NSA has issued a statement stating that the reports “contain numerous inaccuracies” but not actually denying the claims:

    The Guardian and The Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They contain numerous inaccuracies.

    Section 702 is a provision of FISA that is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States. It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.

    Activities authorized by Section 702 are subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress. They involve extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons.

    There were some frankly silly suggestions that perhaps the NSA simply didn’t tell the tech companies the name of the program, allowing them to deny knowledge of PRISM despite knowingly participating. The denials clearly go well beyond simply denying any knowledge of the name.

    It does remain possible that the NSA was accessing the data without the knowledge of the companies concerned.

    While the NSA statement says that the U.S. Government is not permitted to “intentionally” target US citizens, it stops short of saying that any data uncovered in the course of investigating non-U.S. citizens could not then be used.


    6-7-13

    9to5mac.com

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    DevJuice: Is your app watching you?



    The PRISM project is hitting the news just now, with the Director of National Intelligence issuing statements, and people talking about what privacy means in a free society.

    This morning, our backchannel discussion about PRISM drifted to the topic of user privacy in apps. Specifically, we've noticed a recent trend -- our apps are starting to contact us by email.

    Here's an example of a real email generated by an iOS app:

    Hello, Thank you for trying [redacted] out!

    I noticed that you've used the app a couple of times over the past few weeks but are no longer using it. We trying to make the calendar a better experience and in doing so I'd really appreciate if you could take a moment and tell me why [redacted] isn't working for you.

    If you have any other thoughts you'd like to share with the team, please feel free to send it our way!

    That's a pretty startling email to receive, especially when we never contacted the company in question or opted into monitoring. In fact, the app in question offers a lengthly privacy statement, which states, "we may use other Anonymous Information to analyze usage patterns". Clearly that data is not so anonymous that it wasn't able to hijack the Gmail credentials used within the app.

    There's a saying that basically goes, "if the app is free, then you are the product." It's become commonplace to reap device and usage statistics for analytics. Developers may forget that there remains a real privacy line between a user's personal data and how they use the app. With Apple's support of developer- and app-specific tracking identifiers, you shouldn't lose sight of how that data is supposed to be used.

    In February, the FTC issued recommendations for mobile privacy disclosure. Among these, the FTC suggested that apps offer affirmative express consent for access to sensitive information, along with an access "dashboard" that would allow users to review in-app privacy settings.

    At the time, Verne Kopytoff wrote at Bloomberg Businessweek about the motivation behind app privacy policies, "Privacy advocates like to call mobile phones by a more menacing name: tracking devices. Mobile apps log the pages people browse, the products they buy, and the videos they watch. Many apps also note their users' locations and, over time, glean their daily routines."

    As mild as email feedback outreach efforts are, they cross a critical line when leveraging account information meant for in-app use only. A user who buys an app intending to manage his calendar, isn't expressly trying to build a product feedback relationship with the developer. Repurposing Gmail account credentials for further contact breaks an important trust.


    6-8-13

    www.tuaw.com

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    Obama addresses PRISM surveillance, says government isn't listening to your calls



    “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” President Obama said during a Friday press conference, addressing concerns about the National Security Agency’s extensive surveillance program for the first time since its existence leaked Wednesday night.

    Obama made an effort to reassure the American public that its Skype sessions and Google searches are indeed private, but gave only vague details on PRISM, the NSA’s partnership with tech companies and phone carriers.

    “What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers, the durations of calls,” Obama said. “They’re not looking at people’s names and they’re not looking at content. By sifting through this so-called metadata they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.”

    Obama’s remarks addressed the court order, first reported by Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, that reauthorized the NSA’s collection of Verizon phone records in its anti-terrorism efforts. James Clapper, the Obama Administration’s Director of National Intelligence, on Thursday evening confirmed the phone records program, codenamed BLARNEY, and the PRISM initiative, which gives the NSA access to e-mails, phone calls, and search information from Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others.

    Apple, Facebook, and Google all denied providing the government open-ended access to their servers, but did say they complied with specific government requests for information.

    Clapper said the programs don’t allow the government to knowingly collect information on U.S. citizens. Obama reiterated that the surveillance does not apply to Americans during his remarks on Friday.

    "With respect to the Internet and e-mails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States," Obama said. "Not only is Congress fully apprised of it...but the FISA court has to authorize it."

    The surveillance program is governed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

    During the Friday press conference Obama said the NSA’s surveillance efforts are monitored by the three branches of government. “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” the President said. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

    Obama said a “modest encroachment” on privacy is a worthy trade-off for preventing terrorism. There are plenty of people who disagree; legal challenges to the surveillance initiatives are already rolling in.


    6-8-13

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    Apple Explains How It Handles Government Requests Following PRISM Scandal



    Apple has issued a statement which explains its commitment to customer privacy and how it handles government requests for data following the PRISM scandal. The Cupertino company has reiterated that it did not know about the PRISM program until June 6 when it was first contacted by the media, and that it does not provide government agencies with direct access to its servers.

    Any government agency that wants Apple to reveal customer data must first obtain a court order, Apple says, and even then they do not get direct access to Apple’s servers. All requests go through Apple, and there are a lot of them. In an effort to be transparent about how it works with the government, Apple has requested permission to report how many requests it has received and how it handles them.

    “From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data,” the company said in a statement on Monday. “Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters.”

    “The most common form of request comes from 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 statement continued.

    Apple adds that regardless of the circumstances, all requests for data from the government are evaluated by Apple’s Legal team, and only if appropriate, “the narrowest possible set of information” is passed back to the authorities. Apple insists it doesn’t give away information it doesn’t need to disclose, and it even refuses requests for data it sees “inconsistencies or inaccuracies” in a request.

    “Apple has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data, and we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place,” the company said.

    As an example, Apple notes that its iMessage and FaceTime servers are protected by “end-to-end” encryption, and that only the sender and receiver can see and read their conversations. Apple cannot decrypt that data, it says, so neither Apple or the government is able to see it.

    “We will continue to work hard to strike the right balance between fulfilling our legal responsibilities and protecting our customers’ privacy as they expect and deserve,” Apple’s statement concludes.


    6-17-13

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    Apple responds to accusations of sharing customer data with U.S. government



    Apple published an open letter late Sunday night responding to recent allegations that the company had given customers’ personal information, including phone call logs, to the U.S. government as part of the National Security Agency’s secret “PRISM” program.

    In the letter, Apple notes that the government had in fact issued several thousand requests for such information, but that Apple’s legal department had carefully examined each request and turned over only the smallest amount of information necessary, sometimes rejecting requests outright.

    From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data. Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters. The most common form of request comes from 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.

    Apple has placed a link to the full letter at the bottom of their home page, or you can read the entire thing after the break.


    Apple’s Commitment to Customer Privacy

    Two weeks ago, when technology companies were accused of indiscriminately sharing customer data with government agencies, Apple issued a clear response: We first heard of the government’s “Prism” program when news organizations asked us about it on June 6. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order.

    Like several other companies, we have asked the U.S. government for permission to report how many requests we receive related to national security and how we handle them. We have been authorized to share some of that data, and we are providing it here in the interest of transparency.

    From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data. Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters. The most common form of request comes from 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.

    Regardless of the circumstances, our Legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities. In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it.

    Apple has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data, and we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place. There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it.

    For example, conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.

    We will continue to work hard to strike the right balance between fulfilling our legal responsibilities and protecting our customers’ privacy as they expect and deserve.


    6-17-13

    9to5mac.com

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    Obama Meets With Apple CEO Tim Cook In Private Meeting To Discuss PRISM



    With a new story concerning the extraordinary lengths the U.S. Government is seemingly taking to spy on its citizens’ digital lives hitting the news every day now, President Obama met Apple CEO Tim Cook and a number of other tech executives to discuss government surveillance.

    In the wake of the NSA PRISM scandal, in which it was alleged that the U.S. government was given direct access to Apple’s servers (and, indeed, any other company’s servers) to take any data from the iCloud it wanted, President Obama has been signaling he wants to have a larger national conversation about privacy protection.

    According to a Politico report, Cook was joined by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Google’s chief internet evangelist Vint Cerf, and Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn. This is how the meeting went down:

    President Barack Obama hosted Apple CEO Tim Cook, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Google computer scientist Vint Cerf and other tech executives and civil liberties leaders on Thursday for a closed-door meeting about government surveillance, sources tell POLITICO.

    The session, which Obama attended himself, followed a similar gathering earlier this week between top administration officials, tech-industry lobbyists and leading privacy hawks, the sources said. Those earlier, off-the-record discussions centered on the controversy surrounding the NSA as well as commercial privacy issues such as online tracking of consumers.

    No one involved in the meetings will talk about what was discussed, but Apple has always passionately denied being involved in PRISM, and even formed an alliance with Google, Microsoft and others to provide reports to the public on information requests related to national security.

    One interpretation of this meeting is that it’s in relationship to that. Apple wants to be more transparent about who in the government is asking it for data, and how much they are compelled to hand over, but right now, making that information public is against the law. Perhaps a sit-down between Tim Cook and President Obama can change that, but somehow, I doubt it.



    8-9-13

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