Facebook Sees Surge In Government Requests For User Data - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

04:06 PM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb

Facebook Sees Surge In Government Requests For User Data

Facebook's latest Global Government Requests Report shows that worldwide government requests for data and the number of pieces of content restricted continue to rise.

Cloud Vs. On-Premises: 6 Benefits Of Keeping Data Private
Cloud Vs. On-Premises: 6 Benefits Of Keeping Data Private
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The number of worldwide government demands for Facebook user data in the first half of 2015 surged -- with those of the US topping the list, according to the social media giant's Global Government Requests Report released this week. The report also revealed that the amount of content restricted for violating local law substantially increased as well.

In a statement about the report, Facebook said that the number of government requests for account data was up 18% -- from 35,051 requests in the second half of 2014 to 41,214 in the first half of 2015. In the same time period, the number of pieces of content restricted went up 112% -- from 9,707 in the second half of 2014 to 20,568 in the first half of 2015.

The US was highest on the list with the most aggregate requests for information of all countries (17,557, referencing 26,579 user accounts). Facebook said it was able to comply with some data in 79.85% of the requests.

The second place for aggregate government requests was India. The country had 5,515 requests covering 6,268 accounts.

India also had the distinction of being responsible for the most content taken down for violating local laws with 15,155 pieces of content restricted. The US had zero requests for content restrictions.

"We restricted access in India to content reported primarily by law enforcement agencies and the India Computer Emergency Response Team within the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology because it was anti-religious and hate speech that could cause unrest and disharmony within India," Facebook said in the report.

Interestingly, China had zero governmental requests for information and only five requests for contact blocking.

In addition to providing a country-by-country breakdown of the data, the company lists the types of requests made. Of the total requests made by US law enforcement requests, search warrants claimed the highest request number at 9,737, referencing 15,013 accounts, followed by subpoenas for non-content information at 5,375, referencing 8,475 accounts.

(Image: ymgerman/iStockphoto)

(Image: ymgerman/iStockphoto)

Disclosure of real-time information under court order occurring on Facebook was fairly limited in the US. "Pen Register/Trap and Trace" requests numbered 1,066, covering 1,315 accounts.

Facebook said it has been putting out this report for the past two years to bring some transparency to a process that it must comply with. 

"We're publishing this information about requests related to our various products and services (including Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram) because we want people to understand the nature and extent of these requests and the strict policies and processes we have in place to handle them," the company posted on its site.

Requests for data appear to be the most common. "The vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings," according to Facebook. "In many of these cases, the government is requesting basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service. Requests may also ask for IP address logs or account content."

So, the company will basically give up anything you post on Facebook, along with who you are, and your IP address, when a government asks.

However, Facebook deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby notes in a blog post:

As we have emphasized before, Facebook does not provide any government with "back doors" or direct access to people's data. We scrutinize each request we receive for legal sufficiency, whether from an authority in the U.S., Europe, or elsewhere. If a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back hard and will fight in court, if necessary.

[Read Global Data Collection Presents Big Challenges.]

The company said on its page relating to US government data requests that, by law, it cannot detail the number of requests from intelligence agencies as it does law enforcement requests. Instead it reports those numbers in ranges of 1,000. The company also noted that it must delay the release of data relating to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests. Facebook received between 0 and 999 national security requests in the first six months of 2015, according to the report.

As you look at this report, it's natural to grow concerned about the state of government surveillance, especially in the wake of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. But it should be noted that the total of the global requests for information to the company in the first half of this year was 41,214 -- a small fraction of the more than 1 billion average daily users of Facebook.

**New deadline of Dec. 18, 2015** Be a part of the prestigious InformationWeek Elite 100! Time is running out to submit your company's application by Dec. 18, 2015. Go to our 2016 registration page: InformationWeek's Elite 100 list for 2016.

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Author
11/13/2015 | 8:07:51 AM
Re: Facebook?
It's easy for them. They get some sort of information out of it, if not all that they want.

People still tend to be stupid about what they post.

I recall one incident a few weeks ago, where a guy and a girl robbed a seven-eleven or something then posted themselves with the cash on FB. I mean, why not just go to the police station and say here I am?
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

Remote Work Tops SF, NYC for Most High-Paying Job Openings
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  7/20/2021
Blockchain Gets Real Across Industries
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  7/22/2021
Seeking a Competitive Edge vs. Chasing Savings in the Cloud
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  7/19/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
2021 State of ITOps and SecOps Report
2021 State of ITOps and SecOps Report
This new report from InformationWeek explores what we've learned over the past year, critical trends around ITOps and SecOps, and where leaders are focusing their time and efforts to support a growing digital economy. Download it today!
Current Issue
Monitoring Critical Cloud Workloads Report
In this report, our experts will discuss how to advance your ability to monitor critical workloads as they move about the various cloud platforms in your company.
Flash Poll