Government requests for Facebook data on the rise
Thu 12 Nov 2015
In its bi-annual Global Government Requests Report, released yesterday, Facebook reports a steep increase in government requests for user data and for content restrictions. Requests to restrict user content for violations of local law was up over 100% from the previous year, from 9,707 requests in 2014 to 20,518 to date in 2015. Government requests for user data was up by 18% worldwide over the same period.
Facebook used the release of this report to reiterate their commitment to protecting user privacy. ‘To protect people’s information, 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.’
Government requests for user data tend to be related to criminal cases, in which a government agency requests that Facebook release basic subscriber information (name, length of service), IP address logs or account content. Examples of cases in which these requests could be made include robberies or kidnappings. Content restriction, on the other hand, is a circumstance in which a government or governmental agency believes that the content of a post violates local law. The example that Facebook provides is that of Holocaust denial – illegal in Germany – which, if reported may be subject to content restriction for people in Germany.
The actual report for the period January – June 2015 reveals some interesting trends. Content restrictions were by far the highest in India, with over 15,000 instances of user content restrictions. In second place, Turkey, had less than 1/3 of their numbers, at 4,496. The United States was the leader in requests for user data, with 17,577 requests. The next highest was India with just over 5,000 requests, then the UK with 3300. Facebook has a published policy for responses to all requests for user data or content restriction, and claims a rigorous review of each request prior to release of any personal data. Publishing this report on requests for that information is intended as ‘part of a broader effort to reform government surveillance in countries around the world by providing more transparency.’