Facebook Produces First Report on Government Requests for Data

Facebook complied with 79 percent of the government requests for user data it received, according to its first transparency report.

Facebook, a holdout among major technology companies in divulging figures on the numbers of government requests for its users’ data, today delivered its first semblance of a transparency report.

The Global Government Requests Report quantifies the number of data requests against how many accounts, as well as the percentage of those requests that were fulfilled.

For the first six months of this year, the U.S. government made between 11,000 and 12,000 request on as many as 21,000 accounts; Facebook fulfilled 79 percent of those requests. Those numbers are slightly up from June figures released in the wake of the Edward Snowden whistleblower scandal, and almost double those made to Apple during the first half of this year. Google, as have Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo, made a request in June to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller to share more data on requests in order to refute claims the National Security Agency had direct access to the tech giant’s user information, yet no response has been offered.

Facebook, meanwhile, complies with a higher percentage of requests than Google, for example, which in its last transparency report said it met 66 percent of requests, while the number of requests it fielded was close to 22,000 for the six months ending 2012. Facebook said it will regularly produce such reports with more detail.

“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 in the report. “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.”

Facebook was much more stringent in pushing back on foreign government requests, meeting 68 percent of requests from the United Kingdom, 54 percent from Greece, 53 percent from Italy, 39 percent from France and 37 percent from Germany.

“We hope this report will be useful to our users in the ongoing debate about the proper standards for government requests for user information in official investigations. And while we view this compilation as an important first report – it will not be our last,” Stretch said. “In coming reports, we hope to be able to provide even more information about the requests we receive from law enforcement authorities.”

Facebook’s U.S. numbers include not only government and law enforcement requests, but also National Security Letter requests. Details on NSL requests cannot be shared by law, throwing some question into the clarity of Facebook’s report.

Stretch, meanwhile, said Facebook will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure.

“We believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent,” he said. “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.”

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