Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer, speaks as President Donald Trump listens during an American Technology Council roundtable in the State Dinning Room of the White House on Monday, June 19, 2017 in Washington.
Alex Brandon | AP
Apple said Friday it did not know that former President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice asked for Democratic lawmakers’ metadata when completing a subpoena to obtain the information.
Apple’s admission that it complied with the DOJ’s request illustrates the delicate position technology companies find themselves in when forced to balance their customers’ private online activities with legitimate law enforcement requests. Generally, companies like Apple request such requests, but in this case a grand jury and a federal judge forced Apple to comply and remain silent.
The admission follows a report in the New York Times on Thursday that Trump’s DOJ confiscated at least a dozen records from people close to the House of Representatives Committee on Intelligence relating to news reports of the former president’s contacts with Russia. At that time, the DOJ was searching for records of House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., And Committee member Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
Apple said it received a subpoena from a federal grand jury on February 6, 2018. According to Apple, the subpoena requested data belonging to a seemingly random set of email addresses and phone numbers. Apple said it provided the identifiers for some of the DOJ’s inquiries, but not all of the inquiries were for Apple customers.
Due to a secrecy order signed by a federal judge, Apple was unable to notify people that their data had been subpoenaed. The so-called gag order was lifted on May 5th, which is why Apple recently alerted the affected users. According to Apple, the subpoena did not provide any details about the nature of the investigation.
Apple spokesman Fred Sainz said in a statement that the company couldn’t and couldn’t have known who the request was directed at.
“We regularly request arrest warrants, subpoenas and confidentiality orders and have made it our business to inform affected customers as quickly as possible of official inquiries,” said Sainz in the statement. “In this case, the subpoena, issued by a federal grand jury and containing a confidentiality order signed by a federal judge, contained no information about the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the information requested without the.” Scour user accounts. In accordance with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide content such as emails or pictures. “
Apple also said that based on the nature of the subpoena, it believed other tech companies had received similar contracts from the DOJ.
Microsoft told CNBC on Friday that it had received a similar subpoena from the DOJ.
“In 2017 Microsoft received a subpoena regarding a personal email account,” a Microsoft spokesman told CNBC. “As we said earlier, we believe that customers have a constitutional right to know when the government requests their email or documents, and we have the right to tell them. In this case, we were prevented from notifying the customer for a gag order for more than two years. As soon as the gag order expired, we notified the customer, who told us he was a congressional worker. We then gave the representative’s employees a briefing after this notification. We will continue to aggressively pursue reforms that impose appropriate limits on state secrecy in such cases. “
The DOJ’s watchdog is currently investigating the investigation under Trump’s tenure.
Read more about the case here.