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Prism latest: Apple, Microsoft and Facebook reveal US government’s data request figures

The fallout from Prism, the US government’s sweeping surveillance programme exposed earlier this month, continues today as Apple joins fellow tech giants Microsoft and Facebook in revealing the amount of data requests it has received from the National Security Agency (NSA).

The Cupertino manufacturer says it has been authorised to share the requests data and is doing so “in the interest of transparency.” From 1 December 2012 to 31 May 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from the US government to pass on customer data, covering between 9,000 and 10,000 devices.

“The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide,” the company said in a statement.

The disclosure follows similar moves from Microsoft and Facebook at the end of last week. Microsoft revealed information had been requested for approximately 31,000 customer accounts in the second half of 2012, while social network Facebook said it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests covering 19,000 accounts over the same period.

With the Prism saga threatening to inflict significant reputational damage on the companies implicated in the exposé, the industry will be desperate to appear transparent in their handling of consumer data.

“Apple has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data, and we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place,” the firm comments. “There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it.”

The NSA has defended its actions vigorously since the news broke, with agency chief Keith Alexander insisting the data collection has helped prevent “dozens of terrorist events.”

We recently took a closer look at the Prism episode and its implications, while our guide to staying anonymous online is proving increasingly popular as users attempt to limit the exposure of personal data.