Facebook Report: Governments Requested Data on 38,000 Users

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 27 2013 5:14 PM

Facebook Report: Governments Sought Data on Some 38,000 Users This Year

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Mary Guedon of the group Raging Grannies holds a sign as she protests outside of the Facebook headquarters June 4, 2010.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In an unprecedented move by Facebook, on Tuesday, the company released its first Global Government Requests Report.  The report, which outlines governments’ requests for user information, comes on the heels of revelations by Edward Snowden that the company, along with other tech companies, routinely complies with U.S. government requests for data.

In the report’s introduction, Facebook General Counsel, Colin Stretch, writes, “We want to make sure that the people who use our service understand the nature and extent of the requests we receive and the strict policies and processes we have in place to handle them.”

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In the ‘FAQ’ section of the report, Facebook describes official requests this way:

Governments make requests to Facebook and many other companies seeking account information in official investigations. The vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings. In many of these cases, these government requests seek basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service. Other requests may also seek IP address logs or actual account content.

The report gives details about government requests made during the first six months of 2013. 74 countries requested Facebook data on some 38,000 users during that period. The U.S. was by far the leader in official requests with between 11,000 and 12,000 for information on some 20,000 Facebook accounts. The U.S. accounted for more than half of the overall Facebook data requests and were, according to the report, granted 79 percent of the time. India was the second most active country in requesting user data from Facebook, filing 3,245 requests with a 50% success rate.

The U.S. numbers are the only country’s numbers to be presented as ranges, which Facebook says, is due to legal restrictions. “We have reported the numbers for all criminal and national security requests to the maximum extent permitted by law,” the report reads. Facebook says it would have gone further in providing data were it not for U.S. restrictions, presumably due to national security, and the company says it will “continue to push the United States government to allow more transparency regarding these requests, including specific numbers and types of national security-related requests. We will publish updated information for the United States as soon as we obtain legal authorization to do so.”

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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