Law enforcement agencies can use arrest warrants in other ways as well. The police issued Google arrest warrants for all devices that were near the crime scene.
The companies say they sometimes work with law enforcement agencies to narrow down their requests so that the companies only share information that is relevant to a case.
How often do the authorities get such data from the tech companies?
Apple said it received more than 5,850 requests from US authorities for data on 18,600 accounts in the first half of 2020, the last available period. In 43 percent of these inquiries, basic data and in 44 percent of the inquiries actual content data such as emails or photos were transferred.
Microsoft said it received 5,500 US law enforcement requests over the same period, covering 17,700 accounts, and that it disclosed basic data to 54 percent of the requests and content to 15 percent of the requests.
Google said it received 39,500 requests in the US during that period, covering nearly 84,700 accounts, and shared some data 83 percent of the time. Google didn’t break down the percentage of queries that shared basic data versus content, but it stated that 39 percent of queries were subpoenas while half were search warrants.
Facebook said it received 61,500 inquiries in the US during the reporting period, covering 106,100 accounts, and that it passed some data on to 88 percent of the inquiries. The company said it received 38,850 arrest warrants and complied with 89 percent of them, as well as 10,250 subpoenas and 85 percent during the reporting period.
In these cases, the US government agency includes any federal, state, or local law enforcement agency.
Do companies ever resist these demands?
Yes. Companies say they sometimes reject subpoenas, court orders, and arrest warrants if they believe officers lack legal authority or if the motions are too broad.