How Many National Security Letters Sought Data On Facebook Users In The Second Half Of 2013?

By David Cohen 

NationalSecurityRequestsChartThere were fewer than 1,000 requests for information about Facebook users via National Security Letters from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2013, involving fewer than 1,000 users and accounts, Vice President and General Counsel Colin Stretch announced in a Newsroom post, adding a reminder that the company is “limited to reporting data in bands of 1,000.”

The post from Stretch included the chart above and read:

We are pleased to release new data today about the volume and type of national security requests we’ve received from the U.S. government. Along with others in the industry, since last summer, we have been advocating for the right to provide additional transparency about the national security-related requests we receive. With last week’s announcement that the U.S. government has relaxed its limitations on what we are allowed to disclose, we are now permitted to provide important new information that we believe will help foster an informed public debate about the government’s efforts to keep the public safe.

The data we are releasing today should be understood against the backdrop of the transparency reports we have issued over the past nine months. Last summer, in the immediate wake of sensationalist and inaccurate media accounts of purported government access to Facebook user data, we published data showing that, in the last six months of 2012, a small fraction of 1 percent of Facebook user accounts were the subject of any government data requests of any kind, national security-related or otherwise. We subsequently released a transparency report for the first six months of 2013, which again showed that the total volume of user accounts that were the subject of any law enforcement requests was a small fraction of 1 percent. We continue to believe the information included in these reports was an important contribution to the public debate over government surveillance practices, but it was limited. We were not, for example, permitted to break down the data between conventional law-enforcement requests and those related to national security, or indeed even to acknowledge that we had received certain types of national-security related requests at all.

Since then, with others in the industry, we’ve worked hard to advocate for additional transparency, and we’ve made substantial progress. Last week, the U.S. government announced that Facebook and other providers may now provide additional data on the national security-related requests received. For the first time, we can separately disclose the volume of National Security Letters (NSLs) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests we receive. We can also now provide a breakdown within ranges of how many of those FISA requests sought the content of accounts and how many sought non-content information (such as subscriber name). And, within each of these categories, we can also disclose within ranges the total number of users accounts specified in the requests. In each of these areas — NSLs, FISA requests, content versus non-content orders, and the number of users specified in each area — we are limited to reporting data in bands of 1,000.

We plan to update this data every six months, consistent with the authorization provided by the government. These reports will reflect a six-month waiting period from the end of a reporting period, again as mandated by the government. Finally, providers that receive a “New Capability Order” are required to wait two years before including data related to those orders in their transparency reports. The government’s explanation of these requirements is set out here.

Readers: Are you surprised at the low numbers of NSL requests for information about Facebook users?

Unlock key image courtesy of Shutterstock.