Facebook: 59,229 Government Requests for Account Data in First Half of 2016

Government requests for Facebook account data were up 27 percent in the first half of 2016 compared with the second half of 2015, according to the social network’s latest Global Government Requests Report.

Government requests for Facebook account data were up 27 percent in the first half of 2016 compared with the second half of 2015, according to the social network’s latest Global Government Requests Report.

Deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby said in a Newsroom post that Facebook received 59,229 requests in the first six months of the year, up from 46,710 in the last six months of 2015.

Content-restriction requests plunged 83 percent, from 55,827 in the second half of 2015 to 9,663 in the first half of 2016, but Sonderby attributed the large discrepancy to requests from France regarding a single image from the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

The top 10 countries in terms of content-restriction requests in the first six months of 2016 were:

  1. France, 2,213
  2. India, 2,034
  3. Germany, 1,093
  4. Brazil, 1,019
  5. Israel, 962
  6. Austria, 940
  7. Turkey, 861
  8. U.K., 284
  9. Russia, 130
  10. South Korea, 56

And the top 10 countries in terms of requests for account data were:

  1. U.S., 23,854 from 38,951 accounts
  2. India, 6,324 from 8,290 accounts
  3. U.K., 5,469 from 7,199 accounts
  4. France, 3,763 from 4,045 accounts
  5. Germany, 3,695 from 4,599 accounts
  6. Italy, 1,913 from 2,877 accounts
  7. Brazil, 1,751 from 4,486 accounts
  8. Canada, 1,004 from 1,205 accounts
  9. Turkey, 993 from 1,200 accounts
  10. Poland, 991 from 1,032 accounts

Sonderby wrote in the Newsroom post:

The majority of data requests we received from law enforcement in the U.S., or approximately 56 percent, contained a non-disclosure order that prohibited us from notifying the user.

For the first time, our report includes information about the requests we receive from governments around the world to preserve data pending receipt of formal legal process. As we describe in our law-enforcement guidelines, when we receive a preservation request, we will preserve a temporary snapshot of the relevant account information. We do not disclose any of the preserved records unless and until we receive formal and valid legal process. During this reporting period, we received 38,675 preservation requests for 67,129 accounts.

In addition, we have expanded our reporting of emergency requests and disclosures to include countries outside the U.S. In cases of emergency, Facebook may disclose information where we believe that the matter involves imminent risk of serious injury or death. In all of these cases, we require law enforcement to describe the emergency and explain how the requested disclosure might prevent harm. In this reporting period, we received 3,016 emergency requests for 4,192 accounts.

Finally, as a result of transparency reforms introduced this year by the USA Freedom Act, our report also contains additional information concerning National Security Letters. Under a process mandated by the act for lifting nondisclosure obligations, the government lifted a gag requirement on one NSL issued in the second half of 2015. Accordingly, we have updated the range of NSLs in that half from 0-499 to 1-499. The NSL itself, as well as the government’s authorization letter, are available here.

As we have previously emphasized, we apply a rigorous approach to every government request we receive to protect the information of the people who use our services. We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request, and challenge those that are deficient or overly broad. We do not provide governments with “back doors” or direct access to people’s information. We’ll also keep working with partners in industry and civil society to push governments around the world to reform surveillance in a way that protects their citizens’ safety and security while respecting their rights and freedoms.

Readers: What was your initial reaction to Facebook’s Global Government Requests Report for the first half of 2016?