Facebook discloses government data requests

Categories Biometrics News  |  Surveillance

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.

CountryTotal RequestsUsers / Accounts
requested
Percentage of
requests where some
data produced
Albania61283%
Argentina15221827%
Australia54660164%
Austria354117%
Bangladesh1120%
Barbados330%
Belgium15016970%
Bosnia and Herzegovina41125%
Botswana370%
Brazil71585733%
Bulgaria110%
Cambodia110%
Canada19221944%
Chile21534068%
Colombia274115%
Costa Rica460%
Croatia220%
Cyprus3433%
Czech Republic101360%
Denmark111155%
Ecuador230%
Egypt8110%
El Salvador220%
Finland121575%
France1,5471,59839%
Germany1,8862,06837%
Greece12214154%
Hong Kong11100%
Hungary252436%
Iceland11100%
India3,2454,14450%
Ireland344071%
Israel11313250%
Italy1,7052,30653%
Ivory Coast440%
Japan110%
Kosovo2110%
Lithuania6717%
Macedonia91133%
Malaysia71970%
Malta899760%
Mexico7812737%
Mongolia220%
Montenegro220%
Nepal3333%
Netherlands111536%
New Zealand10611958%
Norway161631%
Pakistan354777%
Panama220%
Peru131415%
Philippines4425%
Poland2331589%
Portugal17721342%
Qatar330%
Romania163663%
Russia110%
Serbia110%
Singapore10711770%
Slovenia6850%
South Africa1490%
South Korea71514%
Spain47971551%
Sweden546654%
Switzerland323613%
Taiwan22932984%
Thailand250%
Turkey9617047%
Uganda110%
United Kingdom1,9752,33768%
United States11,000 – 12,00020,000 – 21,00079%

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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