Law enforcement authorities can also use warrants in other ways. Police have issued warrants to Google for any devices that were near where a crime was committed.
The companies say they sometimes work with law enforcement officials to narrow their requests so the companies turn over only information that is relevant to a case.
How often do the authorities obtain such data from the tech companies?
Apple said that in the first half of 2020, the latest period available, it received more than 5,850 requests from U.S. authorities for data related to 18,600 accounts. It turned over basic data in 43 percent of those requests and actual content data, such as emails or photos, in 44 percent of requests.
Microsoft said that it received 5,500 requests from U.S. law enforcement over the same period, covering 17,700 accounts, and that it turned over basic data to 54 percent of requests and content to 15 percent of requests.
Google said that it received 39,500 requests in the United States over that period, covering nearly 84,700 accounts, and that it turned over some data in 83 percent of the cases. Google did not break down the percentage of requests in which it turned over basic data versus content, but it said that 39 percent of the requests were subpoenas while half were search warrants.
Facebook said that it received 61,500 requests in the United States over the period, covering 106,100 accounts, and that it turned over some data to 88 percent of the requests. The company said it received 38,850 warrants and complied with 89 percent of them over the period, and 10,250 subpoenas and complied with 85 percent.
In these cases, U.S. authorities include any federal, state or local law enforcement office.
Do the companies ever resist these requests?
Yes. The companies say they sometimes push back on subpoenas, court orders and warrants if they believe the officials lack appropriate legal authority or if the requests are too broad.