AFP requests to Apple reveal 'get a warrant' pushback

Request documents from the Australian Federal Police to Apple reveal that the company often, but not always, hands over customer information without a warrant.

Although Apple will hand over IP addresses linked to stolen Apple devices without a warrant, the company is more reluctant to hand over iTunes subscriber information.

Apple, along with many other tech companies, routinely receives requests from law-enforcement agencies across the globe for customer information. The tech giant reports these requests in its six-monthly transparency reports.

The latest report revealed that in the first six months of 2014, there were 2,442 device requests from Australian law-enforcement agencies, relating to 3,779 devices. The company handed over data for 59 percent of the requests -- 1,439 times.

Requests for account information from law enforcement in Australia sat at 93 times in the six-month period, relating to 111 accounts. Data was disclosed by Apple for 14 accounts, but the company objected to handing over data for 72 accounts, and succeeded in preventing law enforcement from accessing data for 80 accounts. A total of 13 accounts had non-content data disclosed, and Australian law enforcement had a 14 percent success rate in obtaining data.

The email requests made from Australian law-enforcement agencies generally go to an APAC Request email address held by Apple. Under Freedom of Information, requests made by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) between July and September this year have been released on the website Right To Know.

The documents reveal that the AFP routinely uses this channel to request Apple to hand over the last IP address information associated with iPhones, iPads, and iPods that have been stolen, and Apple generally complies with these requests and provides the IP address information. The AFP also sent over email the credit card numbers believed to have been used to make iTunes purchases.

Apple did reject one request for iTunes subscriber details.

"While we're happy to support law enforcement, we're also committed to protect the privacy of our customers. Apple Pty Ltd can only support such requests with a court order, search warrant, or higher," Apple said in response.

A separate request from the AFP also asked whether it would be possible for Apple to "sync" with an iPad and activate Find My iPhone, the app used to track missing devices. Apple said that it would not be possible for the company to remotely activate Find My iPhone.

A similar Freedom of Information request was also made regarding AFP requests to Google; however, the AFP said it did not hold any such requests.

It comes as the Australian government has legislation entered into parliament to require telecommunications companies -- not technology companies such as Apple and Google -- to retain customer data, including IP addresses, for two years.