Facebook reveals global government data snooping requests

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO of Facebook. [Reuters]

The combined requests by EU member states for information from Facebook amounted to roughly two-thirds the number of US requests, according to global data disclosed by the social network site yesterday (27 August).

Facebook disclosed how many requests for data were made by which countries and how often they were successful, according to the data, which relates to the first six months of this year.

With a total of 12,000 requests the US represented the largest single country to ask for data, but India made 3,254 requests and the EU taken as a whole was responsible for 8,590 demands.

Facebook said it had "stringent processes" in place to handle government data requests, the vast majority of which relate to criminal investigations such as robberies or kidnappings. Each were scrutinised for legal compliance, said Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel.

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

There was a wide variation in the number of requests made by EU countries, however, with the greatest number coming from the UK (1,954), Germany (1,886), Italy (1,705) and France (1,547).

Meanwhile, The Netherlands and Denmark only made 11 requests, and Bulgaria filed one.

The disclosure follows US officials’ confirmation earlier this year of the existence of Prism, a programme to collect data from Google, Facebook, Skype and other US companies, after a whistleblower leaked documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post newspapers revealing the operation.

>> Read: EU calls for US wiretapping to ‘stop immediately’

Data requests: US not alone

The list suggests that despite its controversial Prism spying programme, the US is not alone in tapping social networks’ data.

EU lawmakers reacted angrily to the Prism revelations earlier this year, calling for the US to be forbidden from accessing European citizens' data without the approval of a judge or equivalent authority.

A spokeswoman for EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said that Facebook’s disclosure was "interesting", but added that it would not affect the European Commission’s response to Prism.

“Europeans care about data protection… It is clear: Europeans want rules in place that can help prevent violations of their rights by companies or law enforcement agencies from Europe and beyond,” the spokeswoman added.

However another EU official speaking on condition of anonymity claimed that Facebook’s disclosure was not entirely clear.

“How many government requests were law-enforcement related and how many were intelligence gathering related?” the source said, adding that the high number of requests from the US should be considered in relation to the fact its total number of Facebook users is relatively close to the EU total.

Europeans have reacted angrily to allegations that a US intelligence agency had tapped the servers of internet companies for personal data, saying such activity confirmed their fears about American Web giants' reach and showed that tighter regulations were needed just as the EU and US are about to launch trade talks.

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