Letter from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to US Attorney General Merrick Garland
I urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to permit Apple and Google to inform their customers and the general public about demands for smartphone app notification records. In the spring of 2022, my office received a tip that government agencies in foreign countries were demanding smartphone “push” notification records from Google and Apple. My staff have been investigating this tip for the past year, which included contacting Apple and Google. In response to that query, the companies told my staff that information about this practice is restricted from public release by the government. Push notifications are the instant alerts delivered to smartphone users by apps, such as a notification about a new text message or a news update. They aren't sent directly from the app provider to users’ smartphones. Instead, they pass through a kind of digital post office run by the phone's operating system provider. These services ensure timely and efficient delivery of notifications, but this also means that Apple and Google serve as intermediaries in the transmission process. Apple and Google should be permitted to be transparent about the legal demands they receive, particularly from foreign governments, just as the companies regularly notify users about other types of government demands for data. These companies should be permitted to generally reveal whether they have been compelled to facilitate this surveillance practice, to publish aggregate statistics about the number of demands they receive, and unless temporarily gagged by a court, to notify specific customers about demands for their data. I ask that the DOJ repeal or modify any policies that impede this transparency.
Wyden Smartphone Push Notification Surveillance Letter