Government requests for Facebook data continue to grow

The content that had to be blocked for violating local laws is also on the rise, Facebook said

Requests from governments for people's Facebook account data were overall on the rise in the second half of 2014, though they declined in the U.S. and Germany.

The total number of requests rose slightly to 35,051, up from 34,946 in the first half, Facebook said in a post on its updated Global Government Requests Report released Monday.

The vast majority of requests relate to criminal cases including robberies and kidnappings, the social networking company said. In many of the cases, the government was seeking basic subscriber information such as name and registration date. In others, law enforcement also sought access to IP address logs or account content.

Facebook said it responds to valid requests relating to criminal cases but emphasized that it has strict guidelines in place to deal with all government data requests. Each and every request is checked for legal sufficiency, it said, adding that it rejects or requires greater detail on requests that are overly broad or vague.

In the U.S. there was a decrease in the number of requests filed by the government. The U.S. government filed in total 14,274 requests for access to data covering 21,731 accounts in the second half of 2014, the figures showed. Facebook provided some data in 79 percent of the cases.

That is a slight decrease from half a year earlier, when the U.S. government filed 15,433 requests for access to data covering 23,667 accounts. In the first half of 2014, Facebook gave access to some data in about 80 percent of cases.

The number of requests was also on the decline in Germany, where Facebook received 2,132 requests in the second half of last year, down from 2,537 in the first half.

The actual number of requests in the U.S. may have been higher, as the report did not include certain types of national security requests by the U.S. government. The reporting of these national security requests is subject to a six-month reporting delay as mandated by the U.S. government, Facebook said.

In other parts of the world the number of requests increased, notably in India, where the total number rose from 4,559 in the first half to 5,473 in the second half of 2014. In India, data was provided in less than 45 percent of cases.

The total number of requests also rose slightly in the U.K. to 2,366, up from 2,110 in the first half of last year.

The amount of content Facebook had to block in certain countries for violating local law increased 11 percent. In the second half of last year the social network restricted access to 9,707 items of content, up from 8,774. Content restrictions were on the rise in Turkey and Russia, but on the decline in Pakistan, according to Facebook.

The network will only block content in a country after careful legal review. It will, for example, restrict content denying the Holocaust in Germany as its denial is illegal in that country, it said.

It is the fourth time Facebook provided details on government data requests and content restrictions.

The company vowed to keep scrutinizing every request and said it will push back in case of any deficiencies.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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