Apple Logs iMessage Contacts, Could Share with Police: Intercept

Despite being end-to-end encrypted, your Messages leave behind a log that contains sensitive information such as the phone number you are communicating with and IP address. When so compelled by a court order, Apple shares this data with law enforcement, The Intercept reports.

The catch is in how Apple’s messaging system works: Every time you send a message, the app contacts Apple servers and checks whether it needs to route the message over the SMS system or the company’s proprietary messaging network.

According to the documents shared with The Intercept, Apple logs every such query. While this may not sound alarming, here is the thing: This log contains the date and time when you start your conversation with that number, and your IP address. This kind of information is handed over to law enforcement agencies when Apple is presented with a court order.

The iPhone maker says it keeps these logs for 30 days only, but the report states that this can be extended with the help of a court order, meaning that the police can get multiple months’ logs from Apple, if needed.

Apple is compelled to turn over such information via court orders for systems known as “pen registers” or “trap 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.

The data comes from a document entitled “iMessage FAQ for Law Enforcement”, which was shared with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Electronic Surveillance Support Team.

Screen Shot 2016 09 22 at 1 30 38 PM

Apparently, every number entered into the Messages app is recorded by Apple, even if you don’t send the message to the recipient, for the aforementioned reason: to check whether you’re going to send an iMessage or an SMS.

You can read more about this on The Intercept.

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  • Riddlemethis

    Very interesting especially considering Apple’s position in recent months on releasing private info to the authorities.

  • awkpain

    Article states:
    “Every time you send a message, the app contacts Apple servers and checks whether it needs to route the message”

    The image (document/source?) says:
    “At this time, we do not believe that the query occurs every time the user sends an iMsg”


  • BigCat

    In my opinion logging of this type of information is pretty standard. Phones companies have been doing it forever. There is a log kept on almost everything you do that is technology related (ex: If you are providing a service of any kind logs are your main tools for maintaining that service. Otherwise you are just running blind.

    Bare in mind that there is a big difference between the contents of a communication and a log of a communication.

    Apple’s position has actually never changed with respect to aiding Law Enforcement. Their policy has alway been to provide as much information as possible when complying with a court order. The big deal has always been about creating an universal backdoor to access the message contents of all users both good & bad. There just has never been a failsafe way to implement such a feature.

  • raslucas

    That information in my opinion isn’t private information. Your IP address, telephone number and email address are how you interface with the rest of the world.

    Now, the name associated with that information and what was being communicated IS personal information.