Wikileaks emails show Apple can still give law enforcement meta-data despite encryption

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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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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