Facebook reports 24% increase in government data requests

Facebook has reported a 24% increase in the in the number of government requests for user data in the past six months

Facebook has reported a 24% increase in the in the number of government requests for user data in the past six months compared with the second half of 2013.

According to the social networking firm’s third Government Requests Report, governments around the world made 34,946 requests for data in the first half of 2014.

Over the same period, the number of government requests for content restriction rose by 19%, compared with the second half of 2013.

“We scrutinise every government request we receive for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and push back hard when we find deficiencies or are served with overly broad requests,” said Chris Sonderby, Facebook's deputy general counsel in a blog post.

He said Facebook is currently challenging a bulk search warrant on 400 users, which the social networking firm argues violates privacy and constitutional rights.

“This unprecedented request was by far the largest we’ve ever received,” said Sonderby.

“Despite a setback in the lower court, we’re aggressively pursuing an appeal to a higher court to invalidate these sweeping warrants and to force the government to return the data it has seized,” he said.

Facebook considers the case to be “important” and expects a decision by a New York appellate court later this year.

Facebook’s latest report focuses mainly on criminal information requests rather than the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) orders and National Security Letters (NSL) received.

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The US laws that allow the government data surveillance for security reasons also prevent companies such as Facebook from disclosing detailed information about these requests.

Microblogging firm Twitter is leading the latest challenge to make Fisa and NSL requests more transparent, reports Time.

Twitter sued the Justice Department in October to provide more information to its users.

However, in his blog post, Sonderby said Facebook continues to work with industry and civil society partners to push governments for additional transparency and to reform surveillance practices necessary to rebuild people’s trust in the internet.

“While we recognise that governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety and security, we believe all government data requests must be narrowly tailored, proportionate to the case in review, and subject to strict judicial oversight,” he wrote.

In September, Google reported a 15% increase in the number of requests in the first half of 2014, compared with the previous six months.

Google said that over the past five years, there has been a 120% increase in the number of requests from governments around the world for user data relating to criminal investigations.

Technology and internet firms such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft have all begun publishing so-called transparency reports since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about surveillance.

The companies are concerned that they will lose users’ trust and publishing transparency reports is part of an industry effort to distance itself from government surveillance programmes like Prism.

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