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Apple to routinely inform users of government data requests

From Apple's January report on government surveillance requests.

It was reported on Thursday that Apple will be joining a growing cadre of big-name tech companies that are revising privacy policies regarding "secret" requests for user data, a move opposing the U.S. government's recommendations.

Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google are planning to inform users of government data seizures on a more routine basis unless a gag order is handed down from the appropriate authorities, reports The Washington Post.

While the exact details and rollout timeline for the policy shift have not yet been announced, the tech companies are making a concerted effort to keep customers up to date on the most recent Internet, email records and other personal data requests. Lawyers are reportedly still hammering out certain policy revisions.

"Later this month, Apple will update its policies so that in most cases when law enforcement requests personal information about a customer, the customer will receive a notification from Apple," said spokesperson Kristin Huguet.

The initiative comes in the wake of public disclosures concerning the extent of government surveillance. Brought about by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the programs revealed consisted mainly of national security measures, though tech companies took the opportunity to bolster consumer relations by ensuring customers that their data was safe.

As explained by The Post, the push for transparent privacy operations has become more than a hassle for agencies involved in criminal investigations. A number of cases taken to federal appeals courts have set precedent, effectively shielding companies from having to hand over data without subpoenas or search warrants.

In some cases, companies will turn over anonymous content usage information, but tell investigators that users will be notified of the request prior to disclosure. Law enforcement agencies say the practice gives time for criminals to delete incriminating records, thus hindering an investigation.

The new policies have forced investigators to either drop subpoenaed data requests or seek gag orders, the latter of which has become increasingly difficult post-Snowden.

"It's sort of a double whammy that makes law enforcement's job harder," said Jason M. Weinstein, a former Justice Department deputy assistant attorney general. "It has the potential to significantly impair investigations."

Apple has released surveillance request reports in the past, the most recent of which came in January. With the new policies, the company would reportedly release these updated informational documents on a more regular basis.