What Privacy? Apple’s Sketchy PRISM Response

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16782093@N03/Ever since the Washington Post broke the story of a secret communication surveillance program known as PRISM, consumers have been desperately seeking privacy assurances from various Internet companies. However, Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) recently posted “Commitment to Customer Privacy” statement is a vaguely worded and evasive document that will do little to assuage users’ concerns.

Apple states on its website, “Like several other companies, we have asked the U.S. government for permission to report how many requests we receive related to national security and how we handle them. We have been authorized to share some of that data, and we are providing it here in the interest of transparency.” So far, so good – but this straightforward preamble is followed by several strangely nontransparent and uninformative paragraphs.

Mike Elgan at Cult of Mac notes several odd and uninformative statements in Apple’s “Commitment to Customer Privacy” post. First, Apple states that it “received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data.” Elgan believes it is strange that Apple wouldn’t know the exact number of law enforcement requests. This suggests that Apple is either not good at keeping records or it is obfuscating the true number of requests for some unknown reason – possibly a top-secret reason.

money-eye1-300x225Apple also states that it doesn’t “collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place.” Elgan points out that a “mountain” is a completely meaningless unit of measurement. Apple users can only presume that it is less than a “hill” or “heap” of information.

Apple also claims in its statement that, “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.” Elgan points out that this is simply not a provable statement since most people don’t know the government’s true decryption capabilities. This statement also leaves open the possibility that Apple is still handing over users’ communications to the government in encrypted form.

Although Apple’s convoluted privacy statement doesn’t seem to give any straight answers, the company may not have had much choice in the matter. As long as Apple and the other tech companies are bound by classified government gag orders, users will be left wondering if their communication privacy is truly being protected.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

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