Facebook discloses government data requests

August 30, 2013 - 

In a bid to be more transparent, Facebook has begun to publish the number of requests it receives from governments for user information.

The social network revealed this week that governments around the world requested data on approximately 38,000 Facebook users in the first six months of 2013.  According to Facebook, governments made these requests during the course of official investigations.

The vast majority of the requests, according to the social network, related to criminal cases, such as robberies and kidnappings.  In many other cases, governments sought basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service.  In other requests, governments sought IP address logs and actual account content.

Facebook also revealed that it has stringent processes in place handle government requests.  The firm argues that its process aims to protect the data of its users and requires government to meet an extremely “high legal bar” with each individual request.  Facebook claims its scrutinizes each request to determine whether it is sufficient under the country’s corresponding law and requires a detailed description of the legal and factual basis for each request.

The company’s policy, in effect, refutes claims made in the media earlier this summer, that Facebook is a participant in an illegal U.S. surveillance program.  As BiometricUpdate.com reported previously, Facebook has always vemhemently denied that it has been part of such an operation.

Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook CEO, has stated for the record that: “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, and if we did, we would fight it aggressively.”

Facebook metadata contains the images of millions of faces that could potentially could be mined using facial recognition software.  Yesterday, BiometricUpdate.com reported that the company is considering incorporating user profile pictures into its growing facial recognition database.  Currently, the U.S. government only maintains military and law enforcement databases that leverage facial recognition.  Access to the facial recognition databases of social networking systems could astronomically increase U.S. intelligence assets.

Facebook notes however that it does not provide carte blanche access to its back-end systems to governments. In a new statement outlining its policy approach, the company emphatically states that it actually fights many government access requests, and pushes back when it finds legal deficiencies.  Facebook also attempts to narrow the scope of data disclosure requests when it receives overly broad and vague requests.

“We will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure. We hope this report will be useful to our users in the ongoing debate about the proper standards for government requests for user information in official investigations,” said Facebook lawyer Colin Stretch. “And while we view this compilation as an important first report – it will not be our last.”

The report found that the U.S. made the most requests, asking for data on between 20,000 and 21,000 users.  Canada requested data on approximately 220 users, while U.K. authorities requested Facebook hand over data on 2,337 users.  The report also offered details on 71 other countries as detailed below.

Country Total Requests Users / Accounts
requested
Percentage of
requests where some
data produced
Albania 6 12 83%
Argentina 152 218 27%
Australia 546 601 64%
Austria 35 41 17%
Bangladesh 1 12 0%
Barbados 3 3 0%
Belgium 150 169 70%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 4 11 25%
Botswana 3 7 0%
Brazil 715 857 33%
Bulgaria 1 1 0%
Cambodia 1 1 0%
Canada 192 219 44%
Chile 215 340 68%
Colombia 27 41 15%
Costa Rica 4 6 0%
Croatia 2 2 0%
Cyprus 3 4 33%
Czech Republic 10 13 60%
Denmark 11 11 55%
Ecuador 2 3 0%
Egypt 8 11 0%
El Salvador 2 2 0%
Finland 12 15 75%
France 1,547 1,598 39%
Germany 1,886 2,068 37%
Greece 122 141 54%
Hong Kong 1 1 100%
Hungary 25 24 36%
Iceland 1 1 100%
India 3,245 4,144 50%
Ireland 34 40 71%
Israel 113 132 50%
Italy 1,705 2,306 53%
Ivory Coast 4 4 0%
Japan 1 1 0%
Kosovo 2 11 0%
Lithuania 6 7 17%
Macedonia 9 11 33%
Malaysia 7 197 0%
Malta 89 97 60%
Mexico 78 127 37%
Mongolia 2 2 0%
Montenegro 2 2 0%
Nepal 3 3 33%
Netherlands 11 15 36%
New Zealand 106 119 58%
Norway 16 16 31%
Pakistan 35 47 77%
Panama 2 2 0%
Peru 13 14 15%
Philippines 4 4 25%
Poland 233 158 9%
Portugal 177 213 42%
Qatar 3 3 0%
Romania 16 36 63%
Russia 1 1 0%
Serbia 1 1 0%
Singapore 107 117 70%
Slovenia 6 8 50%
South Africa 14 9 0%
South Korea 7 15 14%
Spain 479 715 51%
Sweden 54 66 54%
Switzerland 32 36 13%
Taiwan 229 329 84%
Thailand 2 5 0%
Turkey 96 170 47%
Uganda 1 1 0%
United Kingdom 1,975 2,337 68%
United States 11,000 – 12,000 20,000 – 21,000 79%

Source: Facebook

For more details, Facebook users can access the full report online.  The company has stated that it will disclose government requests on an ongoing basis.  Facebook has over one billion users.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.