Apple will be creating an online tool for law enforcement agencies to formally request data about its users. Until now, Apple accepted requests via emails to its law enforcement mail account. Apart from a new web portal, Apple also plans to train law enforcement officers globally.
“We believe that law enforcement agencies play a critical role in keeping our society safe and we’ve always maintained that if we have information we will make it available when presented with valid legal process. In recognizing the ongoing digital evidence needs of law enforcement agencies, we have a team of dedicated professionals within our legal department who manage and respond to all legal requests received from law enforcement agencies globally. Our team also responds to emergency requests globally on a 24/7 basis,” wrote Apple on its privacy website.
“We are building a team of professionals dedicated to training law enforcement officers globally, which will significantly increase our ability to reach smaller police forces and agencies. This will include the development of an online training module for officers. This will assist Apple in training a larger number of law enforcement agencies and officers globally, and ensure that our company’s information and guidance can be updated to reflect the rapidly changing data landscape,” it added.
Apple aims to launch the web portal by the end of this year. Along with user data, law enforcement agencies can use the portal to track requests, and obtain responsive data from the company. The agencies, however, will need to submit lawful requests. The web portal is said to be available globally.
Earlier, Reuters reported that Apple was planning to assemble a team to train police about what data can and cannot be obtained from the iPhone maker. Apple can and does provide some user data, such as data stored in its iCloud online service, to law enforcement officials if they make a valid legal request.
But Apple has sparred with US law enforcement officials because it encrypts its devices in such a way that Apple cannot access the devices if asked to do so.
The company said in its letter that it had responded to 14,000 US law enforcement requests last year, including 231 “domestic emergency requests,” that it largely addressed within 20 minutes of receipt “regardless of the time of day or night.”
Apple previously handled those requests via email, a company spokesman confirmed. By the end of this year, Apple will provide an online tool for law enforcement officials to make and track requests, according to its letter.
Apple said in the letter that it had trained nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers in how to obtain data from the company. The training previously happened in person at Apple’s headquarters, but the company said it would create an online training course and a team of trainers to help extend its reach to smaller departments.
A July report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies that surveyed state and federal US law enforcement officials said their top concern was how to identify which technology companies had access to which data and how to obtain it, which can change from year to year and even month to month as consumers use new devices and services.
“Regardless of what happens in the encryption debate, these are efforts that ought to be undertaken,” Jennifer C. Daskal, one of the report’s authors, told Reuters. “Law enforcement needs to know about, and be able to access, the data that is available.”
Apple participated in the study by responding to questions from the researchers, as did other technology companies.