Tech giant Apple said it didn’t realize when it complied with a subpoena requesting data information that the Department of Justice during the Trump administration was seeking data on Democratic lawmakers over leaked information.
Prosecutors under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the subpoenas in 2017 and 2018.
Normally, companies like Apple challenge such requests, but in this case, a grand jury and a federal judge forced Apple to comply and placed the company under a gag order not to disclose the subpoena to the affected parties, CNBC reported.
Microsoft also acknowledged it received a similar subpoena.
The MAGA DOJ had secretly seized the phone records of journalists working for The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post, in an effort to reveal their sources and stop leaks to the press. The NYT recently reported that Trump’s search didn’t just include journalists. Apple had to also give up metadata on at least two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, including current chairman Adam Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, along with up to 12 people tied to that committee including family members and at least one child, The Verge reported.
The subpoena received by Apple in 2018 requested data that belonged to a seemingly random group of email addresses and phone numbers. Apple spokesperson Fred Sainz said that the company did not and could not have known who was being targeted by the request.
The gag order against Apple was finally lifted on May 5, 2021, which is why Apple only recently alerted the affected users.
“We regularly challenge warrants, subpoenas, and nondisclosure orders and have made it our policy to inform affected customers of governmental requests about them just as soon as possible,” Sainz said in a prepared statement. “In this case, the subpoena, which was 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. 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.”
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The Department of Justice during the Biden administration said it plans to conduct an internal investigation, BBC reported.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office was reviewing the “use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records” of members of Congress.
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