Aug 28, 2013 (05:08 AM EDT)
Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

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Facebook released its first Global Government Requests Report Tuesday in an effort to provide more transparency on the growing number of government requests for user data.

The release of this report follows allegations by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden that major Internet companies regularly hand over data on millions of users to national intelligence agencies. Facebook is the latest company to release such information; Microsoft and Google have both recently done the same.

"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," said Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch in a blog post.

Facebook's report details the countries that requested information about users, the number of requests received from each of those countries, the number of users or user accounts specified in those requests, and the percentage of those requests in which Facebook was required by law to disclose some data.

According to the report, Facebook -- which has more than 1.15 billion users worldwide -- responded to requests for information about nearly 38,000 users made by governments in 74 countries in the first half of 2013. More than half of those user-data requests -- 20,000 to 21,000 -- came from the United States, the company said.

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Facebook provided precise numbers for all the countries listed except for the U.S., which bans companies from revealing how many times they've been ordered to turn over information about their customers. The U.S. submitted the most requests, with between 11,000 and 12,000, followed by India (3,245), the United Kingdom (1,975) and Germany (1,886). (Some individual requests sought data on more than one user.) Facebook granted 79% of the U.S.'s requests, compared to 50% for India, 68% for the U.K. and 37% for Germany, the report said.

According to Facebook's Stretch, stringent processes and practices are in place for dealing with government requests.

"We believe this process protects the data of the people who use our service, and requires governments to meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of our users," he said. "We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests. When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name."

According to Facebook, requests for user data can also cover a user's length of service, credit card information, email addresses, IP addresses and the stored contents of any account, including messages, photos, videos and wall posts.

It's not clear from Facebook's report how many of the government requests were for law-enforcement purposes versus intelligence gathering. Facebook did say that the majority of the requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings.

Privacy International, a charity advocacy group, weighed in on Facebook's move to promote more transparency. It said in a statement that, while reports such as Facebook's help to inform Internet users about what information governments are seeking and how often, it's the governments that need to be more transparent.

"Whereas transparency reports detail lawful access requests, we are living in a world where governments exploit over-permissive, vague and outdated laws with impunity. What is needed is a new strong legal framework that all governments must abide by," it said. "Until then, companies like Facebook are left with the burden of having to determine what information may be 'lawfully' demanded by each country, and deciding what they can or cannot release. This is too much to ask of these companies, and too great a trust to be placed in them."