Facebook, Skype and Google open to UK police, says Big Brother Watch

Transparency reports prove the UK police are accessing user information on a daily basis, says privacy group Big Brother Watch

Transparency reports prove the UK police are accessing user information on a daily basis, says privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch.

Facebook’s first global government requests report published this week shows that the social networking firm alone handed over 1,300 users’ data to UK authorities in the first half of 2013.

“This refutes the claim that social networking sites are beyond the reach of police,” said Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch.

Transparency reports prove that UK police are accessing data from social networking services with far greater frequency than many other countries, he said.

According to the report, UK authorities made the third highest number of requests for data on 2,337 users after the US and India.

The US asked for information on up to 21,000 users, making up more than half of the 38,000 requests received worldwide.

Indian authorities requested information on 4,144 individuals, Germany 2,068 and Italy 2,306. Requests were refused in several countries including Bangladesh, Egypt, South Africa, Russia and Qatar.

According to Facebook, it complied with only 68% of UK data requests in the first half of 2013.

Pickles said the fact that a  large number of requests that are approved by UK police are refused by the companies is worrying. “This raises serious doubts about the oversight of decision making,” he said.

Pickles said that if the UK public is to have any confidence that surveillance powers are being used properly, then citizens should not be relying on companies to publish this data.

“We need to do much more in the UK to explain how, when and why powers to access details of our online communications are being used and investigate why so many requests are being signed-off by the police and then refused by companies,” he said.

Most data requests by UK authorities typically involve contact details and locations of suspects in criminal cases, missing persons, and information related to terrorism under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, according to the Guardian.

According to the Facebook report, requests do not involve handing over log-in details to the police, and Facebook has not received any financial compensation for its compliance work in the UK.

The company said it rejects requests which do not comply with local law, international standards or Facebook's terms and conditions.

Facebook, Google, Yahoo and other internet companies have focused on transparency in the wake of revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden of the US Prism internet surveillance operation.

Facebook has announced that it intends to publish a transparency report regularly, including take-down requests from governments around the world.

Colin Stretch, Facebook general counsel said transparency and trust are core values at Facebook. “We want to make sure that the people who use our service understand the nature and extent of the requests we receive and the strict policies and processes we have in place to handle them,” he said.




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