Apple Will Begin Notifying Users of Information Requests from Law Enforcement

applelogo.pngApple will begin notifying its users of secret personal data requests from law enforcement, according to The Washington Post, as the company believes users have a right to know in advance if their information is being targeted by the government.

Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google all are updating their policies to expand routine notification of users about government data seizures, unless specifically gagged by a judge or other legal authority, officials at all four companies said. Yahoo announced similar changes in July.

Prosecutors, however, say the move could tip off criminals, allowing them to destroy potential digital evidence, cover their tracks and intimidate potential witnesses before law enforcement can build their case. Alternatively, the Post notes that some companies who already notify users before a government requests have found that investigators have dropped data requests to avoid having suspects learn of their inquiries.

In the United States, the typical search warrant requires the police to notify the suspect that they are being searched. However, so-called “sneak-and-peek” warrants are not unheard of and allow investigators to search a suspect’s house or other property without any notification. This ability was expanded in the PATRIOT Act, allowing the Federal Government to utilize such warrants in nearly any crime.

Apple and the other companies are seeking to nullify these sneak-and-peek warrants as they pertain to the digital realm.

Apple’s changes will be unveiled in an updated privacy policy later this month, an Apple spokeswoman told the Post, and users will be notified in “most cases” when their information is requested by a government entity. Cases in which Apple would not notify users include data requests from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and subpoenas from the FBI for national security investigations.

“Later this month, Apple will update its policies so that in most cases when law enforcement requests personal information about a customer, the customer will receive a notification from Apple,” company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.

The Cupertino company has been increasingly concerned about privacy matters since the discovery of secret intelligence program PRISM, with CEO Tim Cook saying the NSA would have to cart them “out in a box” before it could access Apple’s servers. Apple has also hired certified privacy professional Sabrina Ross as privacy counsel to oversee the protection of customer data.

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