UK ranks fourth in world and second in Europe for data requests from biggest tech companes, as study reveals decade of steady growth
The UK government ranks amongst the highest in the world for data requests from the four biggest tech companies, requesting seven times more user data than the average, a new study has found.
Online privacy firm Surfshark found that Meta and Microsoft received the highest number of account requests from the UK between 2013 and 2021.
The UK ranked fourth in the world for data requests, with the US and the EU accounting for some 60 percent of all data requests worldwide.
The study covers user data requests by local authorities and law enforcement.
Surfshark found such requests have grown steadily over the period covered, with the number of accounts requested growing more than five times from 2013 to 2021.
The year 2021 alone saw a year-over-year increase of about 25 percent.
UK data requests grew 159 percent over the same period, and increased 8 percent in 2021 over the previous year.
Germany led Europe and was second in the world for data requests, with 648 accounts per 100,000 population, compared to 583.4 for the UK, which was second in Europe.
The UK’s figure was seven times higher than the global average of 87.9 accounts per 100,000 population.
But the US government requested proportinately more than double the accounts proportionate to its population than all the EU countries combined.
Surfshark said each year saw tech companies disclosing on average 56,000 more government data requests than the year before, growing from 127,000 in 2013 to 592,000 in 2021.
The company’s privacy counsel, Gabriele Kaveckyte, said the increased use of data has positive implications for law enforcement, but may raise surveillance concerns.
On one hand, introducing such new measures could help solve serious criminal cases, but civil society organisations expressed their concerns of encouraging surveillance techniques which may later be used, for example, to track down political rivals,” she said.
The study is based on transparency reports from Apple, Google, Facebook parent Meta and Microsoft, with Apple having the highest rate of compliance at 82 percent.
Twitter, which formerly issued such reports twice a year, has stopped doing so since its acquisition by Elon Musk last October.
But the figures in its final report in July 2022 agree with those compiled by Surfshark, reporting that in the final six months of 2021 the US government made more requests for data than any other government, accounting for 24 percent of Twitter’s global requests.
The FBI, Department of Justice and Secret Service “consistently submitted the greatest percentage of requests for the six previous reporting periods”, Twitter’s report said.