Apple on Sunday followed other tech companies in detailing the U.S. government's requests for user data in the wake of disclosures about the National Security Agency's (NSA) secret surveillance programs. [WATCH VIDEO]
The company said it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests for user data from U.S. law enforcement over the last six months, which were related to criminal investigations and national security matters.
The Cupertino, Calif.-based company said it is releasing this information to consumers "in the interest of transparency."
Apple's statement comes after Facebook and Microsoft released similar data late last week after pressing the government to give them permission to disclose such information.
Former contractor Edward Snowden leaks detailing the NSA's collection of phone call and Internet data has raised new questions about how tech companies are complying with government requests for information.
Apple said the most common requests it receives are from "police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide."
The company's legal team reviews each government request for user data, and if deemed appropriate, will "deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities." Apple will refuse to fulfill a request when it spots "inconsistencies and inaccuracies" in the government's request for information, the company said.
In its statement, Apple also noted that it does not provide law enforcement certain categories of data because it refuses to retain that information. The company said iMessage and FaceTime conversations are protected by end-to-end encryption, so only the sender and receiver can view them. It does not store data tied to its customers' location, searches on its Map product or requests to its Siri application "in any identifiable form."
"Apple has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data, and we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place," the company said.
Tech companies have tried to allay concerns about their protection and handling of user data after reports arose earlier this month about an NSA surveillance program, called PRISM, that monitored Internet users by collecting data from top Internet companies.
Apple said it first heard about PRISM when the media asked the company about it earlier this month.
"We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order," the company said.
Microsoft and Google have previously released data on government requests for user information, but they were barred from including Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders. The NSA uses FISA orders as part of the PRISM program.
Google, however, argues that publishing aggregate figures on government requests for user information is not enough. In its Transparency Report, the search giant breaks down its figures, providing numbers for national security letters separately from criminal ones. It also breaks down requests it receives via search warrant and subpoena.
"We have always believed that it's important to differentiate between different types of government requests," a Google spokesman said in a statement. "Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately."
Benjamin Lee, legal director at Twitter, said in a tweet that Twitter shares the same stance as Google on the issue.
"We agree with Google: It's important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests—including FISA disclosures—separately," Lee said.
— Kyle Balluck contributed to this report.
— This story was updated at 11:12 a.m.