Apple to Cease Providing Police Access to User Push Notification Data Without Warrant

Apple said it will no longer give over records of users’ push notifications to law enforcement unless the company receives a valid judge’s order. For its part, Google requires a court-issued order before it will hand over push notification data. Apple did not respond to a request for comment, or say for what reason it previously allowed law enforcement to obtain users’ push notification data without a warrant. Push notifications appear as pop-up messages on a phone alerting the user to new messages, breaking news, and other app-based updates. Wyden said unnamed foreign governments are also demanding Apple and Google turn over users’ push notification data.

In a significant shift, Apple announced that it will no longer provide user push notification records to law enforcement unless there is a valid judge’s order in place. This change is outlined in Apple’s updated law enforcement guidelines, which state that government agencies can now obtain push notification data only with a court order or a search warrant that has been approved by a judge.

Previously, Apple allowed police to access this information with a subpoena, which is issued by law enforcement agencies without any judicial approval. This means that Apple has essentially been handing over user data to authorities without proper oversight.

The decision to reevaluate how it handles demands for push notification data comes just days after U.S. Senator Ron Wyden revealed that Apple and Google can be compelled by governments to share the contents of push notifications sent to customers’ phones, without their knowledge or consent.

“Apple and Google can be ‘secretly compelled by governments’ to hand over the contents of push notifications sent to customers’ phones.” – Senator Ron Wyden

While Google also requires a court-issued order for access to push notification data, Apple did not provide a response when questioned about their previous practice of allowing law enforcement to obtain this data without a warrant, or the reason behind it.

Push notifications, which are pop-up messages that alert users to new messages, breaking news, and app updates, are typically routed through Apple and Google servers. This puts these tech giants in a unique position to potentially facilitate government surveillance of app usage by users, according to Wyden.

In fact, Wyden also revealed that the previous practice of allowing law enforcement access to push notification data was done in secret, preventing Apple and Google from disclosing these types of government requests to the public. Additionally, unnamed foreign governments have also been demanding this data from Apple and Google.

However, not all apps are vulnerable to these demands. Meredith Whittaker, president of end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal, revealed on Mastodon that Signal’s push notifications do not reveal the sender or receiver of a message, and are entirely processed on the user’s device.

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Max Chen

Max Chen is an AI expert and journalist with a focus on the ethical and societal implications of emerging technologies. He has a background in computer science and is known for his clear and concise writing on complex technical topics. He has also written extensively on the potential risks and benefits of AI, and is a frequent speaker on the subject at industry conferences and events.

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