Facebook Transparency Report: US Data Requests Dip Slightly

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Facebook’s Transparency Report for the latter half of 2014 shows slightly fewer U.S. government requests for user data; the company also updates its Community Standards.

Facebook today reported a slight drop in government requests for user data, bucking a trend that peaked during the first half of 2014 with the highest numbers the company had seen.

Its latest transparency report covers the second half of last year, and shows slight dips in requests for user data, the number of accounts referenced and the percentage of requests where Facebook turned over some data.

The numbers are still high, however, and demonstrate a continued interest on the part of the government to use data from web-based services in criminal and national security cases.

Despite dips in requests in the United States—and Germany—Facebook said overall requests for user account data was up slightly from its last report, as was the number of government requests for data and content restrictions.

In the U.S., for example, Facebook received 14,274 requests for user data affected 21,731 accounts; Facebook said it complied with 79 percent of those requests, turning over some content or user data. Content restriction requests, meanwhile, were almost exclusively dominated by India and Ukraine.

By comparison, Facebook through the first six months of 2014, fielded 15,433 requests for user data affecting 23,667 accounts; in 80 percent of those occasions, Facebook turned over some data.

“We publish this information because we want people to know the extent and nature of the requests we receive from governments and the policies we have in place to process them,” said Monika Bickert, head of Facebook global policy management, and Chris Sonderby, Deputy General Counsel. “Moving forward, we will continue to scrutinize each government request and push back when we find deficiencies. We will also continue to push governments around the world to reform their surveillance practices in a way that maintains the safety and security of their people while ensuring their rights and freedoms are protected.”

Facebook also provided some insight into its Community Standards, which define what is acceptable content that is allowed to be posted on the social network. Bickert and Sonderby said there are occasions, for example, when Facebook is asked to remove or restrict access to content because it violates local law, even though it may be within the bounds of its standards. Those numbers are also included in today’s report, along with more detail and examples of what constitutes Facebook’s Community Standards.

“We challenge requests that appear to be unreasonable or overbroad,” Bickert and Sonderby said. “And if a country requests that we remove content because it is illegal in that country, we will not necessarily remove it from Facebook entirely, but may restrict access to it in the country where it is illegal.”

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