The FBI let Apple reveal the existence of a secret inquiry

Apple's new headquarters in Cupertino Calif

Apple's new headquarters in Cupertino Calif

In 2016, Apple answered 11,658 requests covering 43,321 devices and accounts.

Also, for the first time ever, Apple reported receiving a National Security Letter (NSL) in its latest biannual transparency report. When NSLs are marked declassified it's often because the case has been marked inactive.

The company also disclosed as part of the report that it revealed a spike in demands for device data, and national security orders. However, Apple (aapl) was able to reveal that its national security orders were received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the government to spy on foreign targets, as well as National Security Letters, which serve as subpoenas on national security matters. Last year, a federal judge asked Apple to help the FBI to unlock an iPhone that belonged to Syed Farook, who was responsible for the shootings in San Bernardino in December which left 14 people dead.

Apple's report, which covers the second half of 2016, revealed that United States law enforcement made about 600 hundred fewer overall customer-data requests from July to December 2016 (4,254) compared to January through June of 2016 (4,822).

It's entirely possible that Apple has many other NSLs it still has to keep secret because the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to declassify them, and the letter that was declassified could have been sent years ago. The first declassifications started rolling in during June 2016, just as the window on Apple's latest transparency report was opening. Apple, like other companies that regularly release transparency reports, says in its report it would like to be more specific but can't.

Apple releases two reports each year on how customer data is requested by governments and private parties as part of its privacy effort.

It also revealed the presence of a declassified NSL.

The USA Freedom Act, passed in 2015, removed an indefinite gag order that once accompanied NSLs, cutting companies such as Cloudflare, Google, and Open Whisper Systems - the company behind Signal - some slack. The requests impacted 4750-4999 accounts - more than double the amount it received in the first half of 2016, according to ZDNet.

Theoretically, because the letter is now declassified, it could be published and its details made public, but Apple hasn't done that.

But although Apple does frequently work with law enforcement, it emphasizes in the report that it hasn't given a "back door" or provided bulk data to any government.

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