In a blog post on Tuesday, Facebook released its first “Global Government Requests Report”, summarizing the percentage of information requests received by Facebook from various governments around the world in the first six months of 2013.
The post also includes an information section, explaining the nature of government data requests, how Facebook handles them, and answers to common questions regarding the practice.
In the last half of 2013 alone, the United States government has put in thousands of requests for user data. While Facebook has complied with approximately 79% of such requests, it denies the accusation that it gives the government unchecked access to the data of users.
This is probably not an issue for doubt, and it is clear that Facebook has exercised caution about who it gives info to, and for what reasons. While some countries have an acceptance rate of less than one-half, there are others still – such as Egypt – with a 0% acceptance rate.
“We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests,” wrote Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel, in the post. “When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name.”
While many governments around the world have submitted information requests at varying rates, ranging from one single request in the past six months (Hong Kong), to hundreds (Chile), to thousands (India), the United States tops them all with 11 to 12 thousand individual requests, asking for a grand total of 20-21 thousand accounts.
Facebook’s move to better transparency follows a long scare regarding Edward Snowden’s allegations that Internet companies, including Facebook, regularly hand over large swaths of user data to the government. Facebook claims that it is now releasing these documents in order to follow its “core values” of transparency and trust.
This does beg the question why they did not make such statistics public in the first place.
Unquestionably, the move has to do in part with Facebook’s desire to gain more users, and to keep its current user base. But motives aside, it is a nice gesture – one which other companies will hopefully follow, even if it doesn’t help much with the bigger problems.
The data being released by Facebook includes requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act. Normally, the government demands that this data be treated as nonexistent, but Facebook negotiated with the government for the privilege of releasing the number of these requests, as long as it did not specify which requests were for regular law enforcement versus intelligence gathering.