Facebook Reveals Growth Of Government Data Requests

Government’s around the world are demanding an increasing amount of user data from Facebook, coupled with a dramatic rise in restrictions on content deemed to contravene local laws.

This is according to the latest Global Government Requests Report from Facebook, which outlined the number of general governments requests for user data it is now having to field. The social networking giant is not allowed to publicise specific requests by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Greater Transparency

The Facebook report is part of the “Greater Transparency” drive by Facebook that has been ongoing for a number of years now. Facebook and others have always admitted they (albeit reluctantly) share the data of EU citizens with American intelligence agencies for example.

The most recent report revealed during the first half of 2015, it saw a 18 percent increase in global government requests for user data. Governments in total issued 41,214 requests for data compared to 35,051 requests in the previous six month period.

The commonly requested data includes basic user information, IP addresses or account content, and indeed their actual online posts.

And Facebook also witnesses a dramatic rise in the amount of content that it has had to take down for violating local law (i.e. content showing violent crime, Nazi propaganda etc). This increased by a staggering 112 percent compared to the second half of 2014, to 20,568 pieces of content, up from 9,707.

“As we have emphasized before, Facebook does not provide any government with “back doors” or direct access to people’s data,” explained Chris Sonderby, Facebook’s Deputy General Counsel in a blog post.

“We scrutinize each request we receive for legal sufficiency, whether from an authority in the US, Europe, or elsewhere,” he wrote. “If a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back hard and will fight in court, if necessary.”

“Over the last two years, we’ve regularly published information about the nature and extent of the requests we receive,” said Sonderby. “To protect people’s information, we will continue to apply a rigorous approach to every government request we receive. We’ll also keep working with partners in industry and civil society to push governments around the world to reform surveillance in a way that protects their citizens’ safety and security while respecting their rights and freedoms.”

In the UK, the British officials wanted data on 4,489 users/accounts, the third highest number of requests in the world. 78 percent of these requests yielded data for the officials.

Whilst some may view the UK requests as high, it is nowhere near the amount of the leading country requesting data, which is the United States. Indeed, US law enforcement agencies requested data from 26,579 accounts, up from 21,731 accounts in the second half of 2014. Indeed, the United States requests made up more than 60 percent of requests globally.

But other countries are also requesting a lot of data from Facebook including India (6,268), UK (4,489), France (2,847) and Germany (2,716).

India and Turkey are the countries where the most content is taken down for violating local laws. India had 15,155 pieces of content restricted – nearly triple the amount in the second half of 2014 – while Turkey had 4,496, up from 3,624.

Overreaching US?

Whilst Facebook may say that it vigorously polices government request for data, there is no getting away from the fact that it has to hand over user data when requested to by governments around the world.

This point was made by Jim Kinsella, the co-founder of cloud storage specialist Zettabox speaking to TechweekEurope recently.

“Lets be clear, all governments require data controllers hand over information to help stop a crime etc. It happens all time,” said Kinsella. And he pointed out that any US-based firm cannot guarantee the privacy of European citizens’ data.

“But the United States consistently overreaches in foreign countries. That is what makes this situation unique.”

Take our Snowden and NSA quiz here!

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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