Monday, December 2, 2013


Apple has released its first transparency report on the demands it gets from governments for access to people's information, and Australia is near the top of the computer giant's list.

Revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have sparked a worldwide debate on the scale of the surveillance state.  

Alternatively, there has been an ongoing worldwide debate on the scale of the suirveillance for quite some time that the international corporate media only bothered tuning into since Snowden's revelations, and, even then, the conversation has been about anything else except for the morality of governments spying on people from its own country whom it is serving.

Increasingly the giants of Silicon Valley are publishing information on government data requests as part of their fight to remain trusted by their users.

When you are using your iPhone or other Apple products, information is being logged about everything. 

It could be stored on the phone itself or it might be in the cloud, when personal data like photos or contacts or calendar information are uploaded.

Apple says it will only hand over information such as emails and photos in rare cases and if compelled via a court order.

Per capita, Australia out-rates Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States on Apple's league table of governments demanding citizens information.

All up, there were more than 1,200 requests for data of Australian users, and Apple granted access more than half of the time.

"I think what we're seeing from the figures that are being published by those organisations such as Google and Apple and Facebook is that there are a number of countries around the world whose governments or law enforcement agencies are undertaking investigations and are equally seeking that sort of information," Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said.

"It would depend on the nature and the frequency of the need for particular investigations to source information."

He says the reason for accessing the data would have to be explained by the relevant agencies.


"I think it's really important that there is an increased level of transparency about what is happening with people's personal information," Mr Pilgrim said.

"People around the world - and Australia's no exception - remain extremely sensitive about what's happening to their personal information. 

"We recently released the results of a survey into the Australian community's views on privacy and found over 90 per cent of them expect transparency from both government and private sector organisations in terms of what's happening with their personal information."

Apple joins Twitter, Microsoft and Google in revealing how often governments request user information.

This is all a dog and pony show. What type of requests? What are these companies saying yes & no to?

Google's reports go back several years and show that Australian authorities ask for more and more information every year.

Jon Lawrence from privacy and online rights organisation Electronic Frontiers Australia says the reports are about regaining trust with users.

As opposed to the exorbitant prices so many of these companies (Hello Apple, Hello Microsoft) are charging Australian above and beyond what they charge other buyers from across the world.
"They have a clear, powerful commercial incentive to try and restore trust," he said. 

"I think the more they can be seen to distance themselves from government intelligence activities and surveillance and the NSA and so forth at this point, the better.

"Now, whether they really are legitimate about that, I think people will have to make up their own minds. I suspect they probably are."

While the report is supposed to be about transparency, Apple says it was stopped from revealing all of the key details.

Apple is banned by US law and the US government from publishing a wide range of specific information. It includes the number of national security orders, the number of accounts affected by those orders and if content like emails are disclosed.

Unlike all the other countries on the list, the number of requests from the US government are rounded to the nearest thousand.


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