By: Gwenn Barney
Facebook released its semi-annual Transparency Report on December 18 providing a snapshot of information requests that the government makes to the tech giant. Among the telling statistics in the report was an increase in the percentage of data requests that the government made on a confidential basis.
In total, U.S. government agencies entered 32,716 data requests with Facebook between January 2017 and June 2017 for information regarding 52,280 users or accounts. Facebook produced data in response to 85% of these requests. Facebook wrote in its press release on the report, “Fifty-seven percent of the data requests we received from law enforcement in the U.S. contained a non-disclosure order that prohibited us from notifying the user, up from 50% in our last report.”
The first Transparency Report from Facebook was released in 2013 in the aftermath of revelations that Facebook had been quietly providing information about users to government authorities, including the National Security Agency (NSA), in response to government requests. Facebook states that the goal of the report is to be “more open and clear about how we protect the people and businesses that use our services.”
The report provides information on government requests across the globe (including China, where Facebook is banned and unsurprisingly has therefore garnered zero requests for information). Requests for account data increased by 21% globally compared to the second half of 2016, from 64,279 to 78,890. As a sampling of global results in the report, Facebook received 1,004 government requests from the Canadian government and 85% of these requests produced data; Indian authorities made 9,853 requests with 57% producing data, and the Brazilian government made 2,056 requests to Facebook with 57% producing data. Facebook’s policy for responding to requests is broader in the U.S. than in other countries. In the U.S. Facebook responds to “requests for data in accordance with applicable law and our terms of service” whereas in other countries Facebook only responds to the more narrow “valid requests relating to criminal cases.”
The report serves as a reminder that the information we share with websites, like Facebook, that collect mass amounts of data remains subject to government requests.