Facebook transparency report shows increase in government data requests, most with gagging orders


Facebook has published its latest Global Government Requests Report covering the second half of 2015. The transparency report reveals that there has been as 13 percent increase in the number of government requests for data, but it also shows that Facebook is still not able to be as transparent as it might want.

For the first time the social network is able to report about the number of data requests that have a non-disclosure order attached to them. More than half of the requests -- 60 percent, in fact -- have gagging orders that prevent Facebook from notifying users about requests for their data.

In the report Facebook reveals that the number of government requests for account data was 46,763 in H2 2015, up from 41,214 in H1. There was also a massive increase in the number of items which had to be restricted for violation of local laws -- a jump from 20,568 to 55,827.

While there are restrictions that limit exactly what Facebook is able to include in the report, this edition includes a number of case studies to help illustrate the figures. The company explains that the huge leap in content restrictions is largely down to one incident:

One of the case studies explains that the increase in restricted content in this half is almost entirely due to one photo related to the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. The photo was alleged to violate French laws related to protecting human dignity. We restricted access to more than 32,000 copies of the photo, in France only, in response to a legal request from the French government.

Facebook insists that it has firm interest in user privacy, saying:

Over the last few years, we've regularly published information about the nature and extent of the requests we receive. To protect the information of the people that use our service, 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.

The company goes on to say that it does not implement back doors for any government, and is happy to take court action if it feels any data requests are overstepping the mark.

Photo credit: Alexey Boldin / Shutterstock

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