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Facebook Issues First of Regular Reports on Data Requests

Facebook Issues First of Regular Reports on Data Requests
By Seth Fitzgerald

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"As we have made clear in recent weeks, we have stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests," said Colin Stretch, Facebook's general counsel, in a statement. "We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and require a detailed description of the legal and factual bases for each request."
 


Facebook has issued its first Global Government Requests Report, which it said lists every governmental agency request for user data in the first half of 2013. The social network said it intends to release the report with updated information regularly.

During the first six months of the year, Facebook received 25,607 requests covering 37,954 users from government agencies worldwide. Of those, between 11,000 and 12,000 requests came from within the U.S., covering 20,000 to 21,000 users. Overall, government agencies in 74 countries requested data during the six months.

Requests Honored

The U.S. requests, which came from agencies ranging from local police departments to the FBI and NSA, were honored 79 percent of the time, Facebook said. That compares with an average 60 percent rate in which Facebook honored requests globally.

Some countries, such as Turkey, did not file many requests but the ones that Facebook did receive were likely related to political unrest. The Turkish government sent out 96 requests, and while Facebook denies having provided information on Turkish protesters, the data seems to contradict that.

In June, Facebook was dealing with major accusations from an official stating that it had turned over protester information, contributing to the bloodshed. Although Facebook denied those accusations, Tuesday's announcement revealed that it did in fact hand over data in 45 of the requests, a substantial compliance rate.

Generalities

After National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked various NSA documents earlier this year, multiple tech companies (including Facebook) were named as suppliers of user information to the government. Although Facebook was able to release some information, current laws in the United States have prevented the company from releasing specific request stats. Instead, the data provided in Tuesday's announcement along with any future statements are a set of general statistics.

Facebook tried to assure users that it pays close attention to details presented in requests and does not hand out information to everyone that comes knocking.

"As we have made clear in recent weeks, we have stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests," said Colin Stretch, Facebook's general counsel, in a statement. "We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and require a detailed description of the legal and factual bases for each request."

Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Facebook all disclosed the general types of requests they receive from government agencies last spring in the wake of Snowden's NSA revelations. This latest information from Facebook is the start of the company's regular reporting of such data.

Users may find some reassurance with Facebook's data, but no matter what, there are some who will find any release of information to government agencies unacceptable. If Facebook did indeed release data on Turkish protesters, for example, the world has a right to be outraged.
 

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