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
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.
FBI agents visited the Pennsylvania home of Edward Snowden’s father and stepmother, just hours after the 29-year-old NSA whistleblower checked out of his plush Hong Kong hotel and went on the run from U.S. and Chinese authorities.
Two men, identifying themselves as FBI agents, dropped in on Lonnie Snowden, 52, and his wife Karen Snowden, 48, at their property in Upper Macungie Township, as the couple were still “digesting and processing” the news about their son.
Karen Snowden said on Sunday night that they had been “bombarded” by media since Edward Snowden revealed himself to have leaked top-secret documents detailing the government’s extensive surveillance programs.
The woman refused to give any details about her stepson, other than what he’d already offered up in interviews, but she told Lehigh Valley’s The Morning Call the family would be making a public statement in the coming days.
According to mcall.com, shortly after Karen Snowden shut the door, the two men approached the house, telling a photographer they were agents with the Allentown FBI office.
Lonnie Snowden, a former officer in the Coast Guard, told ABC News on Sunday that he had last seen his son “months ago” for dinner and the pair hugged as they said goodbye.
Tammy Reck, a neighbor, told mcall.com that she spoke briefly to the couple on Sunday, when they came out front to warn the residents of the media firestorm that was about to descend.
She said Karen Snowden was upset at the possibility of never seeing her stepson again.
“Not seeing a child anymore, that’s sad, no matter how old that child is,” Tammy Reck said.
The woman described the couple, who were married around five years ago in a backyard wedding, as “great neighbors”. On her Twitter feed, Karen Snowdon describes herself as a certified physical therapist specializing in women’s health, the pelvic area and obstetrics.
She has lived at her current address since at least 1998, records show. Lonnie Snowden lived in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where Edward Snowden was raised, then Crofton, Maryland, with his son’s biological mother Elizabeth Snowden, 52.
The whistleblower told The Guardian his family had no idea what he was planning, and that their safety was his greatest fear.
Two FBI agents dropped in on Lonnie Snowden and his wife Karen Snowden at their property in Upper Macungie Township
New York Republican Peter King, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, was the first to claim the former CIA worker, who he said “has done extreme damage to the US and to our intelligence operations”, should be brought home to face charges.
In a written statement today, Peter King said: “If Edward Snowden did in fact leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date.
“The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence.”
Republican senator for South Dakota John Thune later echoed Peter King’s views.
“As long as you have laws on the books, and we do, you’ve got to enforce the laws,” he told CNBC.
“This is somebody who – it appears, at least – leaked sensitive classified information, and I think he needs to be prosecuted.”
And Republican senator for South Carolina Lindsey Graham tweeted on Monday afternoon: “I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice.”
Meanwhile, former UN Ambassador John Bolton told a US radio station he thinks Snowden is guilty of treason.
In a passionate tirade onWLS,John Bolton said: “Number one, this man is a liar. He took an oath to keep the secrets that were shared with him so he could do his job.
“Number two, he lied because he thinks he’s smarter and has a higher morality than the rest of us… that he can see clearer than other 299-million 999-thousand 999 of us, and therefore he can do what he wants. I say that is the worst form of treason.”
Edward Snowden could face decades in jail if he is extradited from Hong Kong, said Mark Zaid, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers.
According to The Daily Beast, Edward Snowden was already being hunted by government officials even before last week’s explosive news stories triggered shockwaves across the globe.
The Daily Beast’s sources, former U.S. intelligence officers, said the agents trailing Edward Snowden work for the Associate Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence, or “the Q Group”. The same group are more urgently searching for the whistleblower now.
The directorate in effect is the National Security Agency’s internal police force. The group monitor the NSA’s staff and contractors for unusual behavior that may pose an intelligence risk, the Beast writes.
The whistleblower, who earned $200,000 a year, exposed chilling details of how the covert agency, based in Maryland, gathers private information from Americans and others around the world using a program called PRISM.
Revealing why he blew the whistle Edward Snowden said on Sunday: “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
On Monday, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, hailed Edward Snowden a hero for fighting back against the government’s invasion of privacy.
“I think there has not been a more significant or helpful leak or unauthorized disclosure in American history ever than what Edward Snowden shared with The Guardian about the NSA — and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers,” Daniel Ellsberg told The Daily Beast.
Edward Snowden spoke to The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers from a room in Hong Kong’s five star Mira Hotel, located in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood just across the harbor from the mainland.
Ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden has said he acted to “protect basic liberties for people around the world” in leaking details of US phone and internet surveillance.
Edward Snowden, 29, was revealed as the source of the leaks at his own request by the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Edward Snowden, who says he has fled to Hong Kong, said he had an “obligation to help free people from oppression”.
It emerged last week that US agencies were gathering millions of phone records and monitoring internet data.
A spokesman for the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the case had been referred to the Department of Justice as a criminal matter.
The revelations have caused transatlantic political fallout, amid allegations that the UK’s electronic surveillance agency, GCHQ, used the US system to snoop on British citizens.
Foreign Secretary William Hague cancelled a trip to Washington to address the UK parliament on Monday and deny the claims.
The Guardian quotes Edward Snowden as saying he flew to stay in a hotel in Hong Kong on 20 May, though his exact whereabouts now are unclear.
He is described by the paper as an ex-CIA technical assistant, currently employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, a defense contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Edward Snowden told the Guardian: “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting.
“If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
Edward Snowden has said he acted to “protect basic liberties for people around the world” in leaking details of US phone and internet surveillance
He told the paper that the extent of US surveillance was “horrifying”, adding: “We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.”
Edward Snowden said he did not believe he had committed a crime: “We have seen enough criminality on the part of government. It is hypocritical to make this allegation against me.”
He said he accepted he could end up in jail and fears for people who know him.
Edward Snowden said he had gone to Hong Kong because of its “strong tradition of free speech”.
Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty with the US shortly before the territory returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
However, Beijing can block any extradition if it believes it affects national defense or foreign policy issues.
A standard visa on arrival in Hong Kong for a US citizen lasts for 90 days and Edward Snowden expressed an interest in seeking asylum in Iceland.
However, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post quoted Iceland’s ambassador to China as saying that “according to Icelandic law a person can only submit such an application once he/she is in Iceland”.
In a statement, Booz Allen Hamilton confirmed Edward Snowden had been an employee for less than three months.
“If accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm,” the statement said.
At a daily press briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he could not comment on the Snowden case, citing an ongoing investigation into the matter.
The first of the leaks came out on Wednesday night, when the Guardian reported a US secret court ordered phone company Verizon to hand over to the NSA millions of records on telephone call “metadata”.
The metadata include the numbers of both phones on a call, its duration, time, date and location (for mobiles, determined by which mobile signal towers relayed the call or text).
On Thursday, the Washington Post and Guardian said the NSA tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to track online communication in a programme known as PRISM.
All the internet companies deny giving the US government access to their servers.
PRISM is said to give the NSA and FBI access to emails, web chats and other communications directly from the servers of major US internet companies.
The data is used to track foreign nationals suspected of terrorism or spying. The NSA is also collecting the telephone records of American customers, but said it is not recording the content of their calls.
US director of national intelligence James Clapper’s office said information gathered under PRISM was obtained with the approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISA).
PRISM was authorized under changes to US surveillance laws passed under President George W. Bush, and renewed last year under Barack Obama.
President BarackObama has defended the surveillance programmes, assuring Americans that nobody was listening to their calls.
Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who has identified himself as the source of leaks about the US National Security Agency’s surveillance programmes, is believed to be holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong.
Edward Snowden, 29, told The Guardian he flew to Hong Kong on May 20, after leaking information about the NSA’s surveillance programme.
He said that he chose Hong Kong because the city has “a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”.
Edward Snowden’s current whereabouts cannot be confirmed, and the Hong Kong government has not publicly commented on his case, although journalists are staking out various hotels in Hong Kong where they believe Snowden may be hiding.
The US says it has referred the issue to its Department of Justice as a criminal matter. Some analysts and experts believe Edward Snowden faces the strong risk of extradition to the US, if such a move is requested.
Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty with the US shortly before the territory returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
“You get extraditions several times a year from Hong Kong,” said Clive Grossman S.C, a barrister and former vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association.
Under the Fugitive Offenders (United States of America) Order, both Hong Kong and the US have agreed to extradite someone who has committed “an offence which is punishable under the laws of both Parties by imprisonment or other form of detention for more than one year… unless surrender for such offence is prohibited by the laws of the requested Party.”
Regina Ip, a legislator and Hong Kong’s former Secretary for Security, told reporters that the Hong Kong government was “obliged to comply with the terms of agreements” with the US government, including extradition treaties.
Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who has identified himself as the source of leaks about the NSA’s surveillance programmes, is believed to be holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong
“It’s actually in his best interest to leave Hong Kong,” she said, referring to Edward Snowden.
However, the extradition process can be a long and complicated one in sensitive cases like this, said Tim Parker, an immigration lawyer based in Hong Kong.
“There are a number of hurdles that could come up for the extraditing authority, to the advantage of Snowden,” he said.
“There is a bar under Hong Kong’s extradition law… to extradition for an offence that is of a political character, [where] the prosecution is thought not just to be the application of the criminal law, but to crush that person or to crush their dissent,” Tim Parker said.
Another potential hurdle would be any intervention from Beijing, which could block an extradition if it raised questions “going to their national security, foreign affairs, or defense,” Tim Parker said.
A handover could also be halted if Edward Snowden was believed to be in danger receiving of inhumane treatment in the US, Tim Parker added.
“If Mr. Snowden is at risk of being detained under the sort of conditions that Bradley Manning has reportedly been detained, which the UN special rapporteurs have said amounted to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment… then Hong Kong would not be allowed under its law, and could not extradite him to the US.”
A further consideration is what visa Edward Snowden used to enter Hong Kong. If his visa is due to expire soon, a formal extradition request may not be needed.
However, it would not be “legally possible” under Hong Kong law for Edward Snowden to be forcibly taken to Beijing, Tim Parker said.
“That would be a serious breach of the autonomy under Hong Kong’s One Country Two Systems arrangement. There aren’t really any known cases of that having been done off the books [either],” he added.