Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, speaks as President Donald Trump listens at an American Technology Council round table in the State Dinning Room of the White House, 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 tech companies find themselves in when forced to balance their customers’ private online activities with legitimate law enforcement requests. In general, companies like Apple request such requests, but in this case a grand jury and federal judge forced Apple to comply and remain silent.
Admission follows a Thursday New York Times report that Trump’s DOJ has confiscated at least a dozen files from people close to the House Intelligence Committee relating to news reports about the former president’s contacts with Russia. At that time, the DOJ was looking for records of the Chairman of House Intelligence, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., And Committee member Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
Apple announced it had 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.
Because of a confidentiality order signed by a federal judge, Apple might not notify people that their data has 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 about 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, did not contain any information about the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to intend the information without itself dig through user accounts. In accordance with the request, Apple limited the information they made available to accountable attendee information and did not include content such as emails or pictures. “
Apple also said that due to the nature of the subpoena, assumed other tech companies will receive 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 has expired, we will notify the customer who told us that they were a congress employee. we then provided a briefing for the staff representative following this notification. we will aggressively try to continue the reform that imposes reasonable limits of state secrecy in such cases. “
The DOJ’s watchdog is currently investigating the investigation under Trump’s tenure.
Read more about the case.