Hillary Clinton (left) with U.S. vice-president Joe Biden (right).
Hillary Clinton (left) with U.S. vice-president Joe Biden (right).

Published: October 26th, 2016

Apple Inc. gives governments information about its customers “thousands of times every month” and on-device encryption wouldn’t hinder its ability to provide law enforcement “meta-data or any other very useful categories of data,” an email released by Wikileaks reveals.

The email, sent by Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice-president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, is to Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Wikileaks, an organization that invites whistleblowers to send it classified documents for distribution to the public and the press, has been releasing batches of emails by Podesta. The site previously said it would release 50,000 emails from the campaign chair’s inbox and so far has released more than 33,000.

With Clinton running for president and leading in the polls just before the U.S. election on Nov. 8, the Podesta emails have become increasingly high profile and subject of media interest. In Jackson’s email to Podesta, she passes on appreciation for Clinton’s position on the right of technology providers to use strong encryption. She also references Apple CEO Tim Cook’s impending appearance on 60 Minutes by saying “we will amplify encryption messaging tomorrow.”

The details leaked in Jackson’s email match what Apple reported in its most recent transparency report from the second half of 2015. In North America alone, Apple received 4009 law enforcement requests releated to its devices – and only nine of those came from Canada. Apple reported that it provided “at least some information” in 80 per cent of those cases.

What the transparency reports don’t specify is what type of data Apple can provide to the FBI. While the definition of “meta-data” varies, it most often refers to categories that define fields of data or perhaps the header of a data field. In many cases, an e-mail address or subject field of an email could be described as “meta-data” for instance.

Earlier in 2016, Apple took a strong stance against the FBI in refusing to unlock the device of Syed Farook, the shooter involved in the San Bernadino, Calif.-based attacks. Cook, in defending Apple’s refusal to help the FBI break encryption, said encryption is critical to protecting its customers from hackers.

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  • gisabun

    Ah. We all knew that…

    • But was there proof we could know it?

      • gisabun

        Probably nothing anyone wants to divulge in public….

  • Mat Pancha

    Not sure what the concern would be without an accurate definition of meta-data. Although meta-data could mean anything…. meta-data on my files also includes what color label I chose so it shows up red in my OS.

    • You’re exactly right Mat, without a definition of meta-data we can’t know to what extent privacy is at risk. But what we are learning from this email is that Apple is communicating with the White House about its communications strategy around police requests for user data, and that it’s making clear that “meta-data” is available even if encryption is in place. We didn’t know that before.

      • gisabun

        Well I would guess IP, date, time, and GPS coordinates would be the obvious choices. Maybe throw in the AppleID or something that distinguishes one Apple user from another.

      • Mat Pancha

        I guess I assumed they were always giving this data away, call it an educated guess. I suppose I forget that it may not be as logical a conclusion for others.