Apple Says It Didn’t Know Trump’s Justice Department Was Requesting Data From Democrats

Apple said Friday it was unaware that former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department was requesting the metadata from Democratic lawmakers when it complied with a subpoena requesting the information.

Apple’s admission that it complied with the Department of Justice’s request demonstrates the thorny position technology companies find themselves in when forced to balance their customers’ private online activity with legitimate requests from law enforcement. In general, companies like Apple challenge such requests, but in this case a grand jury and a federal judge forced Apple to comply and keep it silent.

The admission follows a Thursday New York Times report that Trump’s Justice Department seized at least a dozen records of people close to the House intelligence panel related to news reports about the former president’s contacts with Russia. At the time, the Justice Department was seeking records of House Intelligence Speaker Adam Schiff, D-California, and committee member Eric Swalwell, D-California.

Apple said it received a federal grand jury subpoena on February 6, 2018. According to Apple, the subpoena requested data that belonged to a seemingly random group of email addresses and phone numbers. Apple said it provided the identifiers it had for some of the Justice Department requests, but not all of the requests were for Apple customers.

Due to a nondisclosure order signed by a federal judge, Apple was unable to notify people that their data was subpoenaed. The so-called gag order was lifted on May 5, which is why Apple recently alerted affected users. According to Apple, the subpoena did not provide details about the nature of the investigation.

Apple spokesman Fred Sainz said in a statement that the company did not and could not know who the request was targeting.

“We regularly challenge court orders, subpoenas and nondisclosure orders and have established our policy to inform affected customers of government requests about them as soon as possible,” Sainz said in the statement. “In this case, the subpoena, which was issued by a federal grand jury and included an order of nondisclosure signed by a federal magistrate, did not provide information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the investigation. desired information without searching user accounts. According to the request, Apple limited the information it provided to the account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or images. “

Apple also said that due to the nature of the subpoena, it believed other tech companies received similar orders from the Justice Department.

Microsoft told CNBC on Friday that it received a similar subpoena from the Justice Department.

“In 2017, Microsoft received a subpoena related to a personal email account,” a Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC. “As we said before, we believe that clients have a constitutional right to know when the government requests their email or documents, and we have the right to inform them. In this case, we were unable to notify the client for more than two years due to a gag order. As soon as it expired, we notified the client that he told us he was a congressional staff member. We then provide a briefing to the representative’s staff after that notice. We will continue to aggressively pursue reform that places reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this. “

The Justice Department watchdog is currently investigating the investigation under Trump.

Read more about the case here.

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