August 28, 2013
US Making Most Requests For Facebook User Information
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A new report from Facebook lists, for the first time, which countries have asked for user data and how many accounts were involved.
The US government tops this list as it has made 11,000 to 12,000 requests for user data from January 1 to June 30, 2013. This is considerably more than any other country that has requested user data over the same period.
In all, during the first half of the year, 70 countries asked Facebook for information on 17,940 of its users. The United States, on the other hand, requested information for 20,000 to 21,000 users. Facebook says many of these requests involve the user’s name and the length of time they’ve been with the social site, but sometimes it is asked for IP addresses and content located within the account. This report comes at a time when many Americans are concerned about government surveillance and their online privacy.
A program meant to facilitate the flow of user information between tech companies like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and the government was uncovered in June. A stunned public reacted harshly as details of this program, called PRISM, were revealed, sending companies to ask the government for more transparency about what information is requested.
India came in a distant second to the US, making 3,245 requests for 4,144 users. Fifty percent of these requests were met with some data. The UK, Germany and Italy round out the top five countries on the list, making 1,975, 1,866 and 1,705 requests, respectively. All told Facebook received 14,607 requests from other countries, significantly less than the requests made by the US alone.
America stands out from this list in another way as well; 79 percent of the requests made by the US were met with at least some user data. While not the highest percentage on the list — Taiwan’s 229 requests were answered 84 percent of the time, for instance — this percentage ranks in the top five. The single requests made by Hong Kong and Iceland in the first half of the year were met with data, and Facebook responded with data for 84 percent of Taiwan’s requests.
The Menlo Park, California-based company says in every instance a request was met with data, as they were legally required to hand over the information. Facebook also claims “the vast majority” of these requests are looking for information as a part of a criminal case, such as kidnappings and robberies.
Facebook and other tech companies involved with PRISM have asked the government to allow them to list exactly what kind of requests they receive from them in a given period. As it stands, these companies must lump national security requests with criminal requests and place the number in a range.
“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,” reads the Facebook report.
“We will publish updated information for the United States as soon as we obtain legal authorization to do so.” The company also says it’ll be releasing similar reports “regularly in the future.”
Apple, Google and Twitter have also released similar reports detailing the number of requests they receive from the US and other countries. Most recently Twitter issued a report, which revealed that America made 78 percent of all the requests for user data from the microblogging site.
When the news of PRISM first came to light earlier this summer, the companies involved were caught quite off guard and have been working to answer their customers' concerns since. The road hasn’t always been easy, of course. When America first heard of the NSA’s surveillance programs, Apple claimed it had never heard of PRISM.
Several weeks after asking the government to let it be more forthcoming with these requests, it was revealed Microsoft is perhaps the company most willing to hand user data over to the government. Reports from The Guardian claim Microsoft even gave the NSA special access around the encryption normally used to protect its users.