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Apple cites 4,000 US data requests

Records shared as part of NSA’s Prism program

NEW YORK — Apple says it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from US law enforcement for customer data for the six months ended in May.

The company, like some other businesses, had asked the US government to be able to share how many requests it received related to national security and how it handled them. Those requests were made as part of Prism, the recently revealed highly classified National Security Agency program that seizes records from Internet companies.

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Prism appears to do what its name suggests. Like a triangular piece of glass, Prism takes large beams of data and helps the government find manageable strands of information.

Prism was revealed this month by The Washington Post and Guardian newspapers, and has touched off the latest round in a decadelong debate over what limits to impose on government eavesdropping, which the Obama administration says is essential to keep the nation safe.

Apple Inc. said that between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in data requests between Dec. 1, 2012, and May 31 from federal, state, and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters.

It said that the most common form of request came from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.

The company also made clear how much access the government has.

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‘‘We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order,’’ Apple said in a statement on its website.

Apple explained that its legal team evaluates each request and that it delivers ‘‘the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities’’ when deemed appropriate. The company said that it has refused some requests in the past.

Facebook Inc. has said that it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests for data from all government agencies in the second half of last year. The social media company said fewer than 19,000 users were targeted.

Apple’s stock rose $1.95 to close at $432 on Monday.

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