Governments ask for data on 38,000 Facebook users

The Guardian, NEW YORK

Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - Page 1

Government agencies around the world demanded access to the information of more than 38,000 Facebook users in the first half of this year, with more than half of the orders coming from the US, the company said on Tuesday.

The Taiwanese government was included in the list, seeking information on 329 users, Facebook said in its Global Government Requests Report. Taiwan was not ranked among the top 10 countries in Facebook requests. The US topped the list, with requests on about 20,000 accounts from January to June.

The report comes as the social network giant and its peers are coming under intense scrutiny following revelations about their co-operation with the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance of US and foreign citizens.

“Transparency and trust are core values at Facebook. We strive to embody them in all aspects of our services, including our approach to responding to government data requests,” Colin Stretch, Facebook general counsel, said in a blogpost. “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.”

US authorities made 11,000 to 12,000 requests for information on 20,000 to 21,000 individuals over the six months. The company complied in 79 percent of cases.

Facebook said it had to give a range for the US figures in order to give an indication of “all criminal and national security requests to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

The figures released by Facebook give no detail on the types of requests received or of what type of information the company handed over.

Facebook, along with Google and others, is currently pressing the US Congress to be allowed to give in greater detail the number of requests it receives from US authorities.

The NSA has the authority to demand data about communications with non-US citizens without specific warrants and gags companies from disclosing even the most basic details of those cases.

“We 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,” Facebook said.

Other countries that have a large Facebook user base such as India, the UK, Italy, Germany and France, also requested data on thousands of Facebook users, the report said.

Facebook said that most of the requests for information were to help with official investigations, primarily related to criminal cases such as robberies and kidnappings.

India made the next highest number of requests for information, 3,245 requests on 4,144 users. Facebook complied in 50 percent of cases. In the UK, authorities asked for details on 2,337 users and Facebook complied in 68 percent of cases.

Additional reporting by CNA