Australian authorities seeking more customer data from Apple

The number of requests to Apple for device or account data from Australian law-enforcement agencies went up in the first six months of 2014.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Apple fielded more requests for device or account data from Australian government agencies in the first six months of 2014, compared to the prior six months.

Apple routinely receives a number of device or account requests from government agencies across the globe. For device requests, this is usually for lost or stolen iPhones or iPads. However, for account information, this involves requests for information about an iTunes or iCloud account such as name and address, and also, in some cases, the iCloud content, including stored photos, contacts, iPhone backups, calendars, and bookmarks.

Apple said it only provides content where the request is accompanied by a warrant.

According to Apple's latest report (PDF) for the first six months of 2014, it received 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.

This is up from 1,679 requests for 3,230 devices, with Apple handing over data 1,088 times in the last six months of 2013.

Account requests were also up, with law enforcement in Australia asking Apple for account data 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.

This is down from the 29 percent success rate in the last six months of 2013, but that only related to 42 requests for access to 45 accounts.

Australian law-enforcement agencies still make the majority of requests for data from Apple for the Asia-Pacific region.

For device requests, following Australia, Singapore came in second, with 1,619 requests for 2,016 devices and a 58 percent success rate, followed by Hong Kong, with 511 requests for 964 devices; China, at 291 requests; and New Zealand, at 243.

For account requests, following Australia, Japan was second, with 64 requests relating to 142 accounts and data handed over by Apple 11 percent of the time. After Japan, it was Singapore, with 24 account requests, followed by Hong Kong and Korea.

According to the report, the vast bulk of device and account requests made to Apple still come from the United States, with 3,529 device requests for 9,477 devices and an 86 percent success rate; and 638 account requests for 1,380 accounts, with 795 accounts having data disclosed to law enforcement.

The report has also removed a reference to never receiving requests for data under the US Patriot Act, leading to speculation that Apple has received such a request in the last 12 months.

The transparency report comes as Apple yesterday updated its privacy policy to state that the company has no ability to hand over data on devices running iOS 8 due to the encryption included in the newest version of the operating system.

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