Facebook publishes list of global government information requests

Eric Pfeiffer

In a move to appease critics of the U.S. government’s alleged domestic spying program, Facebook has posted a tally of information requests from governments around the world.

The chart details the total number of requests from each country, the number of personal user accounts each government requested access to and the percentage of such requests where “these requests in which we were required by law to disclose at least some data.”

Back in June, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally responded to a report from The Guardian newspaper, which said that the government had been using a program known as PRISM to data mine Facebook and other popular Internet sites for information on individuals. At the time, Zuckerberg defended his company, saying that they have never given the U.S. or any other government direct access to its servers.

The U.S. topped the number of requests by a large margin, making an estimated 11,000-12,000 total requests during the first six months of 2013. The U.S. also requested access to an estimated 20,000-21,000 personal accounts. And while the U.S. dominated the total number of requests, they also had one of the higher percentages of requests that led to “some data was produced” at 79 percent.

“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 general counsel Colin Stretch wrote on the company’s site. “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.”

Stretch said that Facebook plans to regularly provide such lists for its user community.

“Government transparency and public safety are not mutually exclusive ideals. Each can exist simultaneously in free and open societies, and they help make us stronger,” Stretch wrote.

The other top five countries making requests of Facebook were India (3,245 total, 4,144 personal accounts and 50 percent legally binding requests), the U.K. (1,975, 2,337, 68 percent), Germany (1,886, 2,068, 37 percent) and France (1,547, 1,598, 39 percent).

Interestingly, Russia, which has received no shortage of criticism for its government’s restrictive online regulations made only a single request during the first six months of 2013 and that request was not legally binding.

Facebook says that the majority of requests pertain to ongoing criminal investigations, often involving robberies or kidnappings.

“In many of these cases, these government requests seek basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service. Other requests may also seek IPaddress logs or actual account content,” the site explains, directing users to its official guidelines for responding to government information requests.