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foreign intelligence surveillance act

Apple has decided to publish details of data requests from the US authorities.

Apple is the latest tech firm to disclose the US government requests and said it received demands for information linked to between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices between December 2012 and the end of May 2013.

It said the demands included “national security matters” among other information. Microsoft and Facebook published similar numbers last week.

But Google and Twitter have said that such disclosures are not helpful.

“We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests,” said a statement by Google published on Saturday.

“Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users.”

A tweet from Twitter’s legal director, Benjamin Lee, added: “We agree… it’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests – including FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] disclosures – separately.”

Apple has decided to publish details of data requests from the US authorities

Apple has decided to publish details of data requests from the US authorities

Tech firms have been under pressure to disclose information about data passed to the National Security Agency (NSA) since The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers revealed the existence of PRISM – a programme giving the NSA access to user data held on the servers of tech firms including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, and Apple.

The NSA later confirmed the existence of the surveillance scheme as well as a separate phone records programme which it said had helped it thwart terrorist plots in the US and more than 20 other countries.

However, privacy activists and some politicians have raised concerns that the efforts went beyond what was intended under powers granted by the Patriot Act following the 11 September 2001 terror attacks.

Following the revelations, several of the tech firms involved said they had asked the US government to allow them to disclose information which would help them address concern about the scale of information that had been handed over.

On Friday, Facebook and Microsoft announced they had been given permission to reveal the number of data requests from US officials in aggregate, and Apple has now followed with its own statement.

“We first heard of the government’s <<PRISM>> program when news organizations asked us about it on June 6,” it said.

“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.”

Facebook added that between 1 December 2012 and 31 May 2013 it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from US law enforcement for customer data, involving between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices. It did not say with how many it had complied.

It said the “common form of request” came from police who were investigating crimes such as robberies, trying to find missing children and patients with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent suicides.

It noted that it would not have been able to decode encrypted conversations which took place over its iMessage or Facetime chat software on behalf of the authorities, nor did it store “identifiable” data related to Apple Map searches or requests made to its voice-controlled Siri service.

“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,” it added.

The European Union is demanding assurances that Europeans are not having their rights infringed by a massive US surveillance programme.

Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding plans to raise the concerns with US Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday.

Last week a series of leaks by a former CIA worker led to claims the US had a vast surveillance network with much less oversight than previously thought.

The US insists its snooping is legal under domestic law.

The Obama administration is investigating whether the disclosures by former CIA worker Edward Snowden were a criminal offence.

Edward Snowden’s employer, defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, said on Tuesday it had fired the 29-year-old infrastructure analyst for violating its ethics code.

US officials say the snooping programme known as PRISM, revealed in last week’s leaks, is authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

It gives the US National Security Agency (NSA) the power to obtain emails and phone records relating to non-US nationals.

But details about the individuals targeted under the act remain secret, and there are concerns the NSA is overstepping its powers.

The EU is demanding assurances that Europeans are not having their rights infringed by US surveillance programme

The EU is demanding assurances that Europeans are not having their rights infringed by US surveillance programme

Documents leaked to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers claimed the US authorities had direct access to the servers of nine major US technology firms, including Apple, Facebook and Google.

Edward Snowden told the Guardian that individual operatives had the power to tap into anyone’s emails at any time.

Although the firms have denied granting such access, saying they agreed only to legal requests, US officials have admitted PRISM exists.

One of the Guardian journalists who wrote the PRISM stories, Glenn Greenwald, has promised “more significant revelations” to come.

In the US, the controversy has focused on the possibility that conversations of US citizens may inadvertently be captured.

But overseas, governments and activists point out that US law provides foreigners with no protection.

Justice Commissioner Reding tweeted: “This case shows why a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury but a necessity.”

Edward Snowden is believed to be in hiding a day after he reportedly checked out of a Hong Kong hotel.

In the US, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the American authorities were “aggressively” pursuing him.

The California Democrat also accused Edward Snowden of “an act of treason”.

The top Republican in the US House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, labeled Edward Snowden a “traitor”.

“The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk,” he told ABC News on Tuesday morning.

“And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

The government began wireless wiretapping after the 9/11 attacks, but the surveillance policy expanded under President Barack Obama.

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