Over half requests for Facebook user data came from U.S. government

Facebook report: U.S. made up to 12,000 requests for information on 20,000-plus individuals in six months

Published August 28, 2013 5:00PM (EDT)

Facebook this week released its first "global government requests report". The document, in the style of Google's transparency reports, displays the sort of Silicon Valley ideology that imbues with high moral valance the fact of telling users just how much we're spied on (and spying on us anyway).

According to the Facebook report, government agencies around the world demanded access to the information of over 38,000 users in the first six months of this year. More than half the orders came from the U.S. (up to 12,000 requests for information on 20,000-plus individuals).

As the Guardian noted:

It is not clear from Facebook's report whether the US figures take into account collection of communications under section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act, which allows the NSA to target non-US persons without an individual warrant. In June, the Guardian revealed that this was done via the agency's Prism collection program with NSA documents claiming that Facebook had been a corporate partner since 3 June 2009.

Following outrage over revelations that the NSA hoards and can surveil information on almost every electronic communication within and going out of the U.S., both Google and Facebook have pushed Congress and the Attorney General to allow them to make public more information about user data that is regularly handed to the government by the Internet giants.

As I wrote concerning Google's push for greater transparency following the first flush of NSA revelations, "with an ill-defined and ill-thought moralism at its foundation, the tech giant has been able to champion transparency and user privacy while at the same time marching in goose step with government and other industry players effectively establishing a totalized surveillance state."

Similarly Facebook's comments Tuesday reflect a desire for transparency, but not necessarily a wish to shift the vast corporate-government surveillance network in which it partakes:

We continue to push the United States government to allow more transparency regarding these requests, including specific numbers and types of national security-related requests. We will publish updated information for the United States as soon as we obtain legal authorisation to do so.

As we have made clear in recent weeks, we have stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests. We believe this process protects the data of the people who use our service, and requires governments to meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of our users.

Facebook complied with 79 percent of all government requests from the U.S. and 68 percent from the U.K.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Facebook Google Nsa Prism Privacy Surveillance Transparency User Data