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Apple makes it harder for the government to get your push notification records

The government now needs a court order or a search warrant if it wants this data.
By
December 14, 2023
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TL;DR
  • Apple has updated its law enforcement guidelines to now require a court order or search warrant if the government wants data around push notification records.
  • This brings Apple to par with Google, which said that it already requires the same for actions on its end.

It recently came to light that Apple and Google were letting governments spy on their users through push notifications. Both companies acknowledged the issue. Google already used to detail governmental requests for users’ push notification data, and Apple committed to updating its transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests. Now, Apple is making it harder for the government to obtain a user’s push notification data by requiring a court order or search warrant to obtain the same.

As Reuters reports, Apple has recently updated its publicly available law enforcement guidelines. The company now requires a judge’s order or search warrant before it will hand over the Apple ID, registered APN token, and associated recorders to the government.

Google said in a statement that it had always required judicial approval to hand over this information. Apple is thus matching Google in this regard with the change.

This saga around governments spying through push notifications came to light when Oregon Senator Ron Wyden wrote a letter to the Department of Justice to lift restrictions around the discussion of push notification surveillance. Since both Apple and Google deliver push notifications through their servers, governments can force them to hand over this information. The information could include unencrypted content and possibly even a notification’s complete text.

It was only after the letter that Apple and Google could share more information. Both companies acknowledged that push notification surveillance has been happening for a while. Apple even said that the federal government prohibited the company from sharing any information.

While the Senator’s letter focused on foreign governments, even the US government participated in the same. 404 Media highlighted a court record for a search warrant application from May 2020 focused on obtaining more data from push notification records.