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8/28/2013
08:47 AM
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Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data

Facebook says the U.S. topped the list, making about half the total requests.

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Facebook released its first Global Government Requests Report Tuesday in an effort to provide more transparency on the growing number of government requests for user data.

The release of this report follows allegations by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden that major Internet companies regularly hand over data on millions of users to national intelligence agencies. Facebook is the latest company to release such information; Microsoft and Google have both recently done the same.

"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," said Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch in a blog post.

Facebook's report details the countries that requested information about users, the number of requests received from each of those countries, the number of users or user accounts specified in those requests, and the percentage of those requests in which Facebook was required by law to disclose some data.

According to the report, Facebook -- which has more than 1.15 billion users worldwide -- responded to requests for information about nearly 38,000 users made by governments in 74 countries in the first half of 2013. More than half of those user-data requests -- 20,000 to 21,000 -- came from the United States, the company said.

[ Want to trim your news feed? Read 5 Ways To Customize Your Facebook News Feed. ]

Facebook provided precise numbers for all the countries listed except for the U.S., which bans companies from revealing how many times they've been ordered to turn over information about their customers. The U.S. submitted the most requests, with between 11,000 and 12,000, followed by India (3,245), the United Kingdom (1,975) and Germany (1,886). (Some individual requests sought data on more than one user.) Facebook granted 79% of the U.S.'s requests, compared to 50% for India, 68% for the U.K. and 37% for Germany, the report said.

According to Facebook's Stretch, stringent processes and practices are in place for dealing with government requests.

"We believe this process protects the data of the people who use our service, and requires governments to meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of our users," he said. "We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests. When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name."

According to Facebook, requests for user data can also cover a user's length of service, credit card information, email addresses, IP addresses and the stored contents of any account, including messages, photos, videos and wall posts.

It's not clear from Facebook's report how many of the government requests were for law-enforcement purposes versus intelligence gathering. Facebook did say that the majority of the requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings.

Privacy International, a charity advocacy group, weighed in on Facebook's move to promote more transparency. It said in a statement that, while reports such as Facebook's help to inform Internet users about what information governments are seeking and how often, it's the governments that need to be more transparent.

"Whereas transparency reports detail lawful access requests, we are living in a world where governments exploit over-permissive, vague and outdated laws with impunity. What is needed is a new strong legal framework that all governments must abide by," it said. "Until then, companies like Facebook are left with the burden of having to determine what information may be 'lawfully' demanded by each country, and deciding what they can or cannot release. This is too much to ask of these companies, and too great a trust to be placed in them."

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KMBurnham
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KMBurnham,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/3/2013 | 12:30:46 PM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
Not to foreign governments, to particular users' home countries.
builder7
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builder7,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/2/2013 | 5:06:43 AM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
Maybe its yours - you sound like you could be a terrorist!
builder7
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50%
builder7,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/2/2013 | 5:05:27 AM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
So why the hell is Facebook giving our information to foreign governments? It is none of foreign governments business as to what American citizens are doing. Is this even legal or has our government totally sold out our rights?
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/29/2013 | 2:44:09 AM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
Too bad all these governments aren't as transparent as Facebook is trying to be here. The only consolation in seeing these numbers is realizing how many other countries are requesting information.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Ninja
8/29/2013 | 2:42:20 AM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
We already have a legal structure that suits us just fine. But we can't tell you about it because it's a secret. Yours, the government.
Cara Latham
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Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2013 | 8:50:16 PM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
It's nice to see Facebook making an effort to at least be somewhat transparent with its users. I don't think there is any more Facebook could do when law enforcement agencies request access; otherwise, the company might face legal issues. I do think, though, that we need to address this as a nation from a regulatory standpoint and limit what the government has a right to access and the reasons for which it does so.
KMBurnham
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KMBurnham,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2013 | 8:04:23 PM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
Hi Gary,

According to the report, Facebook granted 79% of the U.S.'s requests for data. But you're right--compared to the number of Facebook accounts in the world, the number of requests is infinitesimal.
GaryW250
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GaryW250,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2013 | 3:24:24 PM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
To put this in perspective, It would be useful to see this as a percentage of accounts for which access was requested.. I'll bet it's infinitesimal.
JohnR044
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JohnR044,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2013 | 2:58:26 PM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
STOP FEEDING YOUR FACEBOOK. Keep NSA out of your business. Take everything off DropBox, Instagram, iCloud, etc and stash it all in a Cloudlocker (cloudlocker.it) which works just the same but stays in the house where they still need a warrant to get inside. You can use it to post pix & videos on Facebook with links, not the files, so Mark Z owns nothing but a link, which you can break anytime and poof, it's gone. Your files stay safe in Cloudlocker and you'll STOP FEEDING YOUR FACEBOOK.
OtherJimDonahue
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OtherJimDonahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2013 | 2:01:21 PM
re: Facebook Reveals Government Requests For User Data
This is such a complicated topic, and one I keep going back and forth on. Do I want law enforcement to have access to information that will help solve serious crimes? Of course. But it also seems too easy to abuse that power.

Still, I have, since I first started posting on the Internet, only posted what I was comfortable with anyone and everyone reading. It seems the sensible thing to do for all sorts of reasons. Yes, I have privacy settings locked down, but I pretend I don't. If I'm not comfortable with the entire world--including law enforcement and the government--reading something I've written, I don't hit "post."
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