Facebook issues its first global report on government data requests

Following the lead of other major Internet companies, Facebook has issued a new report Tuesday that shows it fielded government requests for data on about 38,000 of its users around the world in the first six months of this year.

The new report provides some detail on requests from governments in 74 countries, including an indication of how often Facebook complied with those requests. It shows, for example, that local, state and federal agencies in the United States made between 11,000 and 12,000 requests that for data from a combined 20,000 to 21,000 user accounts – and that Facebook complied with 79 percent of those requests.

Among other Internet companies, Google has reported this kind of information for several years.  Twitter began reporting similar data last year, and Microsoft issued its first report earlier this year.

But as with those other companies’ reports, the new Facebook disclosures provide only a partial picture of government information-gathering. Facebook’s report doesn’t distinguish between routine law enforcement requests (such as when local police are looking for a suspected thief or a missing child) and demand related to national security investigations.

Federal laws often prohibit companies from disclosing national security data requests. That’s why Facebook reported the total number of U.S. requests in a range, instead of an exact number – because the government won’t allow it to include specific numbers of national security requests. But recent disclosures about extensive data-gathering by the National Security Agency have prompted Internet companies to push for the right to provide more information.

Google has led the way in that regard, first pushing to win permission to disclose how many demands it receives in the form of National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, and more recently filing a lawsuit asserting that it should be allowed to disclose requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Microsoft filed a similar suit; both cases are still pending.

(Photo credit: AP/Ben Margot)

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (325 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.