In February 2018, the Department of Justice sent Apple a broad request as part of an investigation into data on members of Congress, staffers, and their families. Apple said Friday evening that the department had requested metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses.
On Feb. 6, 2018, Apple received a subpoena from the Justice Department, but it contained no information about who the investigation was targeting or why, according to the company. Apple also stated that determining who owned the targeted accounts would have necessitated extensive research.
According to a source familiar with the request, the subpoena sought information on the targeted accounts from their inception to the date of the subpoena.
Apple stated that the data it provided was limited to metadata and account subscriber information, and that it did not provide any content such as emails or photos. While Apple claims it would normally notify customers, it was unable to do so in this case due to a nondisclosure order, according to the company.
According to Apple, the nondisclosure order was extended three times, each time for a year. Apple said it informed affected customers on May 5, 2021, when it was not extended for a fourth time.
“In this case, the subpoena, which was issued by a federal grand jury and included a nondisclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge, provided no information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts,” Apple said in the statement. “Consistent with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures.”
According to a source familiar with the request, the subpoena was signed by prosecutor Jocelyn Valentine and authorized by Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in federal court in DC.
Similar requests, according to the company, were sent to other technology companies and internet service providers.
Microsoft said Friday evening that it received a subpoena in 2017 related to a congressional staffer’s personal email account.
Microsoft, like Apple, was served with a gag order, according to a company spokesperson. For more than two years, the gag order was in place.
Following Microsoft’s notification of the subpoena, the account holder contacted the company to inform them of their status as a congressional staffer, according to Microsoft.
“In 2017 Microsoft received a subpoena related to a personal email account,” the statement said. “As we’ve said before, we believe customers have a constitutional right to know when the government requests their email or documents, and we have a right to tell them. In this case, we were prevented from notifying the customer for more than two years because of a gag order. As soon as the gag order expired, we notified the customer who told us they were a congressional staffer. We then provided a briefing to the representative’s staff following that notice. We will continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this.”