Facebook releases first report on world governments’ data requests


The Facebook logo is shown at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California May 26, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS)
August 27, 2013

Facebook fielded requests from 74 countries for data on at least 38,000 users in the first half of 2013, the company said in its first report detailing the scale and scope of data requests it receives from governments around the world.

The report, released Tuesday, covers every request the company has received from every government from January through June 30. Facebook said the report includes requests made for security reasons and for criminal cases. In the latter, the company may be asked, for example, to supply information to help authorities in robbery or kidnapping cases. In those requests, the company said, officials often seek data on users’ names or length of service and sometimes users’ IP address or “actual account content.”

The United States, by far, has sought the most user information from Facebook — from 11,000 to 12,000 requests for access to more than 20,000 accounts. Facebook said that it supplied data in roughly 79 percent of those cases.

The United States allows companies to release only the ranges of the number of requests the government makes. Facebook, among other technology firms that collect user data, has asked to be allowed to list the actual number of requests it has received from the U.S. government and to say what kind of information it’s asked to reveal.

Britain filed the second-most requests for data from Facebook: 1,975 requests from 2,337 user accounts. Facebook said it complied 68 percent of the time. France, Germany, India and Italy also made more than 1,000 requests during the first half of 2013.

Facebook said on its Web site that it plans to release the data reports regularly. Several technology firms, including Google and Twitter, have released regular reports in past years. Others, such as Yahoo, have recently started sharing information on government requests in the wake of revelations about data surveillance by the National Security Agency through the PRISM program.

Several of these reports have shown an increase in the number of information requests received by tech firms from world governments over the years.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based nonprofit group, said in a statement that while it congratulates Facebook for releasing the data request report, it wants the Obama administration to allow technology firms to be more specific about the number and scope of requests issued by the U.S. government.

“[We] hope that the Obama administration and Congress will work together to ensure that companies like Facebook can soon engage in meaningful transparency reporting about the full range of government surveillance of Internet users,” said Kevin Bankston, the group’s free expression director.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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