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Apple: We'll tell users when the Feds come looking for their data

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Apple has updated its procedures for dealing with police investigations into its users' data, and has promised to let individuals know when they are being probed – most of the time, that is.

The new guidelines state that customers will not be notified if there is a non-disclosure order with the search warrant or if "we believe in our sole discretion that such notice may pose immediate risk of serious injury or death to a member of the public or the case relates to a child endangerment matter."

Under the new terms, Apple has codified exactly how much data it stores and what it can hand over. For example, the company claims that it can't totally crack a password protected iPhone running iOS 4 or a later operating system, but it can extract user-generated active files in Apple's non-encrypted native apps.

In such circumstances, Apple says it would prefer law enforcement pop down to Cupertino personally to oversee data extraction, and warns them to bring their own FireWire-equipped hard drive (with at least twice the capacity of the phone) to collect any salvaged data. If the police send it in to Apple's HQ instead, they should include a suitably sized USB thumb drive.

Phone registration information is available to suitably subpoenaed police, although Apple says it doesn't check if this is accurate. Customer service records, iTunes information, and Apple Store purchasing history are all available to a cop with a warrant.

For users of iCloud, Apple will provide subscriber information and connection logs to police, and the company stores email logs – both ingoing and outgoing – for 60 days before deletion at its data centers in California, Nevada, and North Carolina. The contents of emails can also be read, but not if the user has deleted them.

The exceptions to this are Apple's iMessage and Face Time apps. These have end-to-end encryption, and Apple says it can't wiretap those conversations, although it can tap into basic emails.

Cupertino also says that it doesn't store geolocation data from the iPhone's GPS system or records from the Find My iPhone app. If the police have the right paperwork, Apple can deliver connection logs from the application, provided it is switched on. If the app is turned off, Apple says it can't activate it remotely to enable stealthy tracking.

Apple isn't alone in toughening up the rules on what data it will and won't allow the police to raid; Facebook, Google and Microsoft are all taking another look at their rules. Ever since Edward Snowden started leaking, the companies have faced a consumer backlash on privacy and are keen to show they are doing what they can to keep people informed. ®

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