Facebook reports a 24 percent rise in government requests for user data

The majority of requests targeted users in the U.S.

Facebook received nearly 35,000 requests for user data from governments around the world during the first half of 2014, up 24 percent from roughly 28,000 requests made during 2013's second half.

The uptick indicates the value governments place on the personal information Facebook has on file for its 1.35 billion users who log in at least monthly. The majority of these requests, Facebook said Tuesday, relate to criminal cases like robberies or kidnappings, targeting data like subscriber information as well as IP address logs and actual content.

The U.S. dominated in the number of requests, with 15,433 queries targeting 23,667 people, or well less than 1 percent of Facebook's total users, according to the company's third report on such requests. India clocked in second with 4,559 requests, with France, Germany and the U.K. each having more than 2,000 requests.

Google, in comparison, received nearly 32,000 government data requests worldwide for the first half of the year, and over 12,000 in the U.S.

Facebook says it pushes back against requests that are overly broad or not legally sound. But still, it hands over data to varying degrees depending on the country; the company produced some user data for more than 12,000 of the 15,433 requests in the U.S.

The report does not provide much useful information about requests related to national security matters, due to U.S. laws that prevent Facebook and other companies like Google and Microsoft from revealing anything more than a vague range.

For the first half of 2014, Facebook says it received between 0 and 999 National Security Letters, a type of request commonly used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation seeking metadata such as names, e-mail addresses and time and date of messages. Facebook reported the same range during the first and second halves of 2013.

The constitutionality of NSLs has been debated in court, with a recent hearing held in an appeals court in San Francisco.

Facebook must wait six months before it can disclose the number of data requests it received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is a different type of request typically targeting actual content such as email messages.

Tech companies have sued the U.S. government to become more transparent, which led to declassification of the ranges earlier this year.

"We continue to work with our 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," said Facebook Deputy General Counsel Chris Sonderby, in the firm's announcement on Tuesday.

Legislative efforts to reign in government surveillance include the USA Freedom Act, which has yet to become law.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

IDG News Service
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