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What you need to know

  • It was revealed this week that Apple was forced to hand over the data of Democrat House Intelligence Committee members in 2018.
  • It was part of the Department of Justice's investigation into leaks during the Trump administration.
  • Apple says it could not have known the nature of the investigation when it complied.

Apple has confirmed that it did not know the nature of the investigation the Department of Justice was carrying out when it subpoenaed Apple for the data of two Democrats in 2018.

Earlier this week it emerged that a Justice Department investigation into leaks of classified information during the early Trump administration involved the "highly unusual step" whereby Apple was subpoenaed for the data from the accounts of two Democrats on House Intelligence Committee, their aides, and family members including one minor.

Specifically the representatives were California's Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swalwell. A court gag order prevented Apple from disclosing the request to the parties affected until May of this year, and a new statement from Apple now confirms it had no visibility regarding why the data was requested.

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In a statement, Apple's Fred Sainz said "We regularly challenge warrants, subpoenas and nondisclosure orders and have made it our policy to inform affected customers of governmental requests about them just as soon as possible." Sainz goes on to say the subpoena in this case "was issued by a federal grand jury and included a nondisclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge" that prevented that disclosure as mentioned.

Apple went on to say the subpoena "provided no information on the nature of the investigation" and that it would have been "virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users' accounts." Apple says that "consistent with the request" it limited the data provided to "account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures." Apple also stated that due to the nature of the request it was implied that other tech companies had received a similar order, and Microsoft has since confirmed to CNBC that it received a similar request.

According to reports, Apple received a request for information on 109 identifiers, including 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, and as a result, it has since limited its compliance with requests to 25 identifiers.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday that there will be an investigation into the use of subpoenas, including the one sent to Apple, as part of a wider look at the investigation.