The New York Times is reporting on a new wrinkle in the story of how the Trump administration’s Justice Department used Big Tech to spy on two members of the House Intelligence Committee in an effort to track down leaks to the press — namely that Apple might not be against it never had a chance to fight it because the company approved the request.
Apple didn’t even know it was handing over the data of Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), then the top member of the House Intelligence Committee, it told the publication. In a statement, Apple said it didn’t know what the investigation was about, and couldn’t have known unless it dug through user accounts itself. So it was treated like the vast majority of the 250 requests the company received from the government each week: approved. “An Apple legal officer has complied with and provided the information,” the company said NOW.
Apple did not realize that data on two Democratic lawmakers was part of a request from the Trump Justice Department. It was handled by a paralegal as a routine request.https://t.co/kS51EUmnCp
— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) June 11, 2021
More details: The grand jury subpoena sought metadata for 109 identifiers, specifically 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses. Apple said it assumes ISPs and other tech companies have received similar requests. Apple now limits identifiers to 25 or less.
— Zack Whittaker (@zackwhittaker) June 11, 2021
The turn’ piece paints a picture of a US government whose requests are growing in volume, and perhaps a general willingness on the part of Big Tech to comply (not that these companies often have a choice). Apple contested only 4 percent of these types of requests in the first six months of 2020, according to the turn. And while Google fought a gag order when the Trump administration seized the phone records of NOW reporters, the story suggests it was easier to take on the challenge because Google viewed the NYT as a business customer, not an individual user.
Both Apple and google have transparency report pages where you can see how many government requests they have received and how often they comply. Apple has not responded to our request for comment.
Microsoft was also swept up in Trump’s leak hunt. It told the NOW that it also only learned that it had provided the government with information about a congressman after a gag order expired.