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Apple unveils figures on government data requests

Apple has provided details on the requests for user information it receives from law enforcement officials, and joined its tech rivals in asking the feds for permission to make even more data public.

"We believe that our customers have a right to understand how their personal information is handled, and we consider it our responsibility to provide them with the best privacy protections available," Apple said in a report posted to its website.

To that end, Cupertino provided a breakdown of the law enforcement data requests it has received in the first six months of 2013 across 31 countries - one table for account information requests and another for device information requests.

On account information, it received 127 account requests in the UK covering 141 accounts. In Spain, it got 102 account requests for 104 accounts.

The information for the US is provided in ranges of 1,000 because it incorporates national security orders. In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, the feds allowed tech companies to add these requests to their transparency reports, but only in broad ranges and only when grouped in with other non-classified requests, like those from local police departments.

As a result, Apple's report says that it received 1,000 to 2,000 law enforcement account requests between 1 January and 30 June covering 2,000 to 3,000 accounts. Data was disclosed on 0-1,000 of those accounts, according to the stats.

For many firms, presenting this vague data is not enough. Apple, along with rivals like Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook, have asked for permission to break out this data.

"Despite our extensive efforts in this area, we do not yet have an agreement that we feel adequately addresses our customers' right to know how often and under what circumstances we provide data to law enforcement agencies," Apple said.

As for what Apple can disclose, the company said that only a "small fraction" of requests cover iTunes, iCloud, or Game Center accounts. "Account-based requests generally involve account holders' personal data and their use of an online service in which they have an expectation of privacy, such as government requests for customer identifying information, email, stored photographs, or other user content stored online. Apple logs these as account requests."

"The vast majority of the requests we receive from law enforcement seek information about lost or stolen devices, and are logged as device requests," Apple said. "These types of requests frequently arise when our customers ask the police to assist them with a lost or stolen iPhone, or when law enforcement has recovered a shipment of stolen devices."

The US had the highest number of device requests, followed by Germany with 2,156 and Singapore with 1,498.

A similar revelation occurred in July, when Apple, Microsoft and Facebook released data request figures in the wake of the Prism scandal.