Facebook reveals details of government data requests from around the world

We’ve known for a while that governments around the world have been gathering data about Internet users, monitoring online communication via instant messaging, email and much more. Numerous websites and social networks have received requests from government bodies for information relating to their customers and users. Now, Facebook reveals for the first time just who has been asking for data.

The Global Government Request Report covers the first six months of 2013, and is introduced with the words "Transparency and trust are core values at Facebook". Although the report is not especially detailed -- it is likely that it was not legally possible to be -- it does show which countries have asked for data, the number of requests each country made, the number of user accounts inquired about, and (perhaps most interestingly) the percentage of requests that Facebook was legally obliged to comply with.

Colin Stretch, Facebook’s General Counsel, says that "government transparency and public safety are not mutually exclusive ideals… each can exist simultaneously in free and open societies". But he is also keen to stress that Facebook is not quick to bow to just any request. "We scrutinise each request for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law…we fight many of these requests.... and we frequently share only basic user information, such as name".

Unsurprisingly, it is the US government that has made the most requests for data, and has a high success rate for getting what it asks for. Strangely, however, while request numbers for the likes of the UK, Spain, Taiwan and Germany are precise (1,975, 479, 229 and 1,886 respectively), things are much more vague for the US – 11-12,000 requests.

Of the 20-22,000 user accounts asked about, the US government managed a 79 percent hit rate. Other countries were more successful with their requests – Albania got information from 83 percent of its requests, Hong Kong 100 percent (although there was only one request) and Taiwan was successful with 84 percent of its requests. Some governments were left disappointed, with Uganda, South Africa, Russia, Serbia and Bangladesh among those who had their requests completely denied.

Facebook takes the opportunity to point out its guidelines for responding to data requests. The company states that, while this is the first report into requests, it is not going to be the last, and that it hopes "to be able to provide even more information about the requests we receive from law enforcement authorities" in future.

Image Credit: Skylines / Shutterstock

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