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Apple Logs Users' iMessage Contacts and May Share Them With Police

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

iphonedigital / CC BY-SA 2.0

A document obtained by The Intercept reveals that, in violation of Apple’s promise to protect its customers’ iMessage conversations from anyone but users and their friends, the company keeps a log of users’ contacts and shares them and other potentially sensitive metadata with law enforcement when ordered by courts to do so.

Sam Biddle reports:

Every time you type a number into your iPhone for a text conversation, the Messages app contacts Apple servers to determine whether to route a given message over the ubiquitous SMS system, represented in the app by those déclassé green text bubbles, or over Apple’s proprietary and more secure messaging network, represented by pleasant blue bubbles, according to the document. Apple records each query in which your phone calls home to see who’s in the iMessage system and who’s not.

This log also includes the date and time when you entered a number, along with your IP address — which could, contrary to a 2013 Apple claim that “we do not store data related to customers’ location,” identify a customer’s location. Apple is compelled to turn over such information via court orders for systems known as “pen registers” or “tap and trace devices,” orders that are not particularly onerous to obtain, requiring only that government lawyers represent they are “likely” to obtain information whose “use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.” Apple confirmed to The Intercept that it only retains these logs for a period of 30 days, though court orders of this kind can typically be extended in additional 30-day periods, meaning a series of monthlong log snapshots from Apple could be strung together by police to create a longer list of whose numbers someone has been entering. …

Apple maintains a log of phone numbers you’ve entered into Messages and potentially elsewhere on an Apple device, like the Contacts app, even if you never end up communicating with those people. The document implies that Messages transmits these numbers to Apple when you open a new chat window and select a contact or number with whom to communicate, but it’s unclear exactly when these queries are triggered, and how often — an Apple spokesperson confirmed only that the logging information in the iMessage FAQ is “generally accurate,” but declined to elaborate on the record.

See the document and continue reading here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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