Facebook Transparency Report: First Ever Details On Government Requests For User Data

  @ryanWneal on August 29 2013 3:05 PM

Following the information revealed by Edward Snowden about secret NSA surveillance programs PRISM and XKeyscore, Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) released a report Tuesday on requests for user data it receives from the government. Called the “Global Government Requests Report,” it’s the first such transparency step taken by Facebook.

“Transparency and trust are core values at Facebook,” Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel, wrote on a Facebook blog post. “We strive to embody them in all aspects of our services, including our approach to responding to government data requests. 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.”

The report lists every country that has requested information from Facebook, in alphabetical order, and provides the exact number of requests received and how many user accounts were specified by those requests. Facebook also states the percentage of requests to which Facebook responded with data.

Well, except for the United States. The U.S. government, which makes the most requests by far, allows tech companies like Facebook to report only a general range. Facebook could say only that it received between 11,000 and 12,000 requests in the first half of 2013, and that the requests asked for data pertaining to 20,000 to 21,000 user accounts. Facebook responded positively to 79 percent of these requests.

Requests from the U.S. make up more than half of the total requests Facebook received. The U.S. was followed by India, which submitted 3,245 requests, the United Kingdom (1,975) and Germany (1,886).

Facebook said the government requested data on a user’s length of service, credit card information, email addresses, IP addresses and Facebook content like messages, photos, videos and wall posts.

The latest Facebook transparency report does not distinguish between requests for criminal investigations or intelligence-gathering, though Facebook maintains that the majority of the requests are for criminal cases such as kidnappings and robberies.

Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), which has been publishing similar transparency reports for a few years, has been pushing the government for the ability to distinguish between these types of requests. 

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