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Facebook reports 26,000 government requests for user data

Posted at 5:10 PM, Aug 27, 2013

(CNN) — The United States government requested information on more than 20,000 Facebook users in the first half of 2013, according to the social network’s latest transparency report.

This is Facebook’s second transparency report and it includes much more information than the first. In it, Facebook shows the total number of requests made by each country, not just the United States. An alphabetized table of countries shows how many accounts were involved, and the percentage of requests that resulted in Facebook turning over at least some of the desired information to that country.

The United States is the most interested in Facebook user data. It made between 11,000 and 12,000 requests for information from more than 20,000 Facebook accounts in the first six months of this year. (The government won’t allow Facebook to report the exact numbers, only ranges.)

Facebook complied with 79% of U.S. requests.

Seventy-one countries submitted requests to Facebook. There were more than 26,000 total requests impacting at least 38,000 individual users. India submitted the second largest amount of requests, followed by the United Kingdom, German, Italy and France.

Google has not yet released its report for the first half of 2013, but in the second half of 2012 it fielded more than 21,000 requests from 31 countries for more than 33,000 different users.

Though transparency is the stated goal, people can only view Facebook’s report if they are logged onto the social network.

In the report, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said the company had high legal bars for the requests from governments, and emphasized that the company scrutinized each individual request.

“We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests. When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name,” said Stretch.

The report does not break out national security requests from the usual criminal inquiries, something that has drawn criticism from Google in the past.

In June, following public outrage over revelations regarding electronic surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies, Facebook made a deal with the federal government about what information it could make public. After Facebook coughed up its first transparency report, Google released a statement criticizing the social network and the federal government because it didn’t specify how many government requests were criminal versus national security related.

“Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately,” said Google.

In a FAQ under its new transparency report, Facebook does say that the “vast majority” of requests were about criminal cases.

“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 authorization to do so,” reads the report.

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