PRISM Stories April 8, 2016

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The WSJ has illustrated the stark contrast in Apple’s attitude to assisting law enforcement to access iPhones before and after the Snowden revelations about mass surveillance of private data. It was already known that Apple had helped access more than 70 pre-iOS 8 iPhones, and the paper today reports that – in the earliest known case – the company went as far as drafting the language for the court order.

Lawyers and investigators involved in the 2008 prosecution of Amanda and Christopher Jansen, a young married couple from Watertown, N.Y., remember it as one of the most horrific cases of child sex abuse they had ever seen.

History may remember it for another reason. It is believed to be the first case of a federal judge ordering Apple to assist the government in unlocking an iPhone—and the technology giant not only complied; it helped prosecutors draft the court order requiring it to do so … 

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PRISM Stories September 8, 2015

DOJ and FBI officials say Apple & other tech companies ‘winning PR battle’ over data privacy

Some law enforcement officials are frustrated that Apple and other tech companies appear to be winning the PR battle over data privacy, reports the NYT.

Some Justice and F.B.I. officials have been frustrated that the White House has not moved more quickly or been more outspoken in the public relations fight that the tech companies appear to be winning, the law enforcement officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private conversations.

The comments came in the wake of a DOJ drugs and guns investigation where the agency obtained a court order to obtain iMessages between suspects, and Apple responded that it was unable to comply as end-to-end encryption is used, meaning that Apple has no way to decrypt the communications. Tim Cook said of iMessages a year ago that the content is “encrypted and we don’t have the key.”

There has long been tension between Apple and law enforcement agencies over encryption, Apple arguing that its customers right to privacy outweighs the right of law enforcement agencies to intercept communications – a stance strengthened by the Snowden revelations into large-scale electronic surveillance by governments. Law enforcement officials have become increasingly strident and hyperbolic in their statements on the subject.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that less stringent protection would still “adequately protect personal privacy,” FBI Director James Comey claimed that Apple’s encryption was “putting people beyond the law,” the DOJ suggested that iPhone encryption could eventually lead to the death of a child” and Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr, said that the iPhone would be “the terrorists’ communication device of choice.”

PRISM Stories April 20, 2015

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Van

We’ve heard some pretty outrageous ramblings from the government regarding Apple’s use of encryption in its mobile devices in the past—including a claim from the Department of Justice that some day it will result in the death of a child—but Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. might have just dethroned the DOJ as king of hyperbole.

Yesterday morning during a radio interview, Vance claimed that Apple’s encrypted software will make the iPhone the communication tool of choice for terrorists:

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PRISM Stories March 26, 2015

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Apple is one of ten tech giants to once again call on the US Government not to reauthorize the Patriot Act in its current form. The Act expires on 1st June unless it is renewed by Congress. Apple was joined by AOL, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo.

In an open letter to President Obama, NSA Director Admiral Rogers and other prominent government figures, the companies urge Congress to end the bulk collection of communications metadata–the logs that determine how and when ordinary citizens contact each other.

The letter says that mass surveillance must end, and that a revised bill must contain mechanisms to ensure that future government surveillance is both transparent and accountable …  expand full story

PRISM Stories February 25, 2015

Chinese government removes Apple from list of approved tech companies for state purchases

The Chinese government has removed several prominent US tech companies, including Apple, from its list of approved vendors for state purchases, Reuters reported today. The change is hardly unexpected following the government’s response to accusations several years ago that the US National Security Administration had been using backdoors in Apple products to spy on users.

PRISM Stories November 19, 2014

SMS Relay Text Message Forwarding iOS 8.1

Apple and the government have long been engaged in a bitter war of words over encryption and security practices employed in Apple’s iOS devices, but a new Wall Street Journal report indicates that the Department of Justice is really starting to take the rhetoric to the next level.

According to the Journal, a DOJ official actually told Apple executives during a meeting last month that in the future the Cupertino company could eventually be directly responsible for the death of a child. expand full story

PRISM Stories September 18, 2014

Tim Cook

Just as Apple published a new letter from Tim Cook and an update on privacy and security policies, a new report points to evidence the company has recently received new government demands for user data under the Patriot Act. GigaOM reports that language previously included in Apple’s Transparency Reports noting the company had “never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act” has since been removed. That could signal, according to the report, Apple’s involvement with controversial National Security Agency programs that demand data from companies: expand full story

PRISM Stories July 11, 2014

The WSJ reports that the state-run China Central TV has described the iPhone as a “national security concern” due to its location-tracking capabilities.

In its national noon broadcast, state-run China Central Television criticized the “frequent locations” function in Apple’s iOS 7 mobile operating system, which tracks and records the time and location of the owner’s movements. The report quoted researchers who said that those with access to that data could gain knowledge of the broader situation in China or “even state secrets” …

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PRISM Stories May 23, 2014

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Apple’s association with the United States National Security Agency may once again put the company in the spotlight as Germany begins to investigate the agency’s recent activity. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, members of a German parliamentary commission want the heads of a number of US-based tech companies, including Apple, to participate in their investigation of the NSA’s involvement in monitoring German officials.

Apple, for its part, has denied direct involvement with PRISM program and repeatedly said it has not allowed the government to have direct access to its servers. expand full story

PRISM Stories December 30, 2013

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The NSA could access almost all data stored on an iPhone, including location, text messages and contact lists – including the ability to activate both microphone and camera, according to a presentation by security researcher Jacob Appelbaum at the Chaos Communication Conference in Hamburg, Germany.

Appelbaum showed what he said were leaked NSA documents in which the agency claimed to have a “100 percent success rate” at installing spyware on iPhones. The documents date back to 2008, at which point the NSA needed physical access to an iPhone to install the spyware, but a remotely-installable version was said at the time to be in development.

Even needing physical access to the phone was seemingly not a barrier to the NSA …  expand full story

PRISM Stories December 8, 2013

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The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has joined Microsoft, Twitter, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, and other giants in the tech industry in calling for a reform of the NSA’s surveillance tactics. Earlier this year it was revealed that the National Security Agency was using information from these companies and more to monitor citizens across the nation without warrants.

The companies allegedly involved in the “PRISM” program denied turning over any user data to the government, but a leaked NSA slidedeck (seen above) seemed to imply the opposite.

The new collaborative campaign, called Reform Government Surveillance, cites five driving principles in its drive to curb excessive government spying:

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PRISM Stories November 1, 2013

Apple and other leading tech companies support USA Freedom Act to limit NSA powers

Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL have all signed an open letter expressing support for the USA Freedom Act co-sponsored by Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner. The Act, if passed, would outlaw the NSA’s speculative bulk collection of data and allow the companies to be far more transparent about the data they are obliged to make available to the government.

As companies whose services are used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, we welcome the debate about how to protect both national security and privacy interests and we applaud the sponsors of the USA Freedom Act for making an important contribution to this discussion.

The companies had previously complained that gag orders forced them to issue denials that were technically true but misleading. They had asked to be allowed to release more specific figures about the number of demands they receive for personal data.

This letter goes further, in supporting moves to actually limit the powers the government would have to gain access to the data in the first place.

Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done. Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs.

In introducing the bill, Senator Leahy said “The government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act are far broader than the American people previously understood. Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough.”

The Verge reports that Google is tightening the security of its internal networks, and that Twitter has already moved to encrypt direct messages.

Full text of the open letter below.

PRISM Stories October 18, 2013

Apple reiterates it cannot read user iMessages, has no plans to do so

Update: Fresh Apple statement added

The immunity of iMessages from government surveillance has been cast into doubt by QuarksLab security researchers presenting at the Hack in the Box conference in Kuala Lumpur.

A leaked DEA document had pointed to the impossibility of intercepting iMessages even with a court order, a point that was confirmed by an apparently categorical Apple statement:

Conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data.

The researchers reverse-engineered the iMessage protocol and confirmed that the claim was true. However, they identified that Apple needed to hold the encryption keys on its own servers, and that simply by changing these keys, it could enable access to the message content.

They can change a key anytime they want, thus read the content of our iMessages.

The researchers were keen to stress that they do not believe Apple is doing, or has ever done, this – but rather that it could do so if the NSA or another government agency were to require it. Only messages sent after Apple changed the keys would be accessible.

Apple has since issued a statement to AllThingsD:

“iMessage is not architected to allow Apple to read messages,” said Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said (sic) in a statement to AllThingsD. “The research discussed theoretical vulnerabilities that would require Apple to re-engineer the iMessage system to exploit it, and Apple has no plans or intentions to do so.”

This is, though, merely a weaker version of its earlier statement. Then, it said it couldn’t read iMessages, now it is saying that it could, but it would require work and it has no intention of doing so. That Apple would not willingly do so was never in doubt: the point is that the NSA could force it to. A demonstration from QuarksLab is below:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbqZnTKDVU0]

When the NSA PRISM story broke, it led to a raft of denials in what some security researchers say was carefully-crafted language. Apple, among other companies, was clearly unhappy about the secrecy imposed on it and gained permission to reveal some numbers on government requests for customer data. A meeting was subsequently held at the White House in which Tim Cook and other tech CEOs met with President Obama to discuss the issue. Details of the discussions were not made public.

PRISM Stories August 8, 2013

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U.S. President Barack Obama met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and other technology company executives today to discuss government surveillance, according to a report from Politico. Earlier this week, according to the report, the President and his staff began holding confidential meetings about surveillance tactics and topics such as the recent NSA-related controversies with company executives and other members of pertinent organizations.

Those invited were mostly senior executives, including Cook, Stephenson and Cerf, as well as representatives of groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology and Gigi Sohn, the leader of Public Knowledge, according to three sources familiar with the meeting. Each declined comment for this story.

The report names AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and former Google Vice President Vint Serf as the other technology community members involved in the meetings. Serf recently was appointed by President Obama to the National Science Board, and Serf is also known as a pioneer of the internet…

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PRISM Stories June 16, 2013

Apple published an open letter late Sunday night responding to recent allegations that the company had given customers’ personal information, including phone call logs, to the U.S. government as part of the National Security Agency’s secret “PRISM” program.

In the letter, Apple notes that the government had in fact issued several thousand requests for such information, but that Apple’s legal department had carefully examined each request and turned over only the smallest amount of information necessary, sometimes rejecting requests outright.

From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data. Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters. The most common form of request comes 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.

Apple has placed a link to the full letter at the bottom of their home page, or you can read the entire thing after the break. expand full story

PRISM Stories June 7, 2013

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Claims made by The Washington Post that the National Security Agency was tapping into the servers of nine tech companies for details of user activity have been denied by Apple and most of the other companies alleged to be involved.

“We have never heard of PRISM,” said Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple. “We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”

Similar denial statements have been issued by Yahoo, Dropbox, Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

The Post published slides from what it said was a Powerpoint presentation detailing the top-secret program, in which it was implied that the companies listed were knowing participants …  expand full story

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