Facebook continues to fight dragnets for private data by governments, but the combined number of requests from local law enforcement and federal spy agencies like the NSA went up 24 percent from the last half of 2013 to the first half of 2014, according to Facebook’s new government requests report. In the U.S., Facebook received 15,433 data requests about 23,667 accounts, and was forced to provide data for 80.15 percent of the requests.
Meanwhile, countries with local laws about objectionable content increased their requests to Facebook to restrict content by 19 percent, with the most coming from India, Pakistan and Turkey.
In the report, Facebook details how it’s still fighting what it calls an overly broad search warrant for data about suspects in a disability fraud case. Of the 381 people the government requested data about, only 62 were later charged, giving credence to Facebook’s argument that law enforcement overstepped its bounds by asking for data on so many people. Facebook writes that “Despite a setback in the lower court, we’re aggressively pursuing an appeal to a higher court to invalidate these sweeping warrants and to force the government to return the data it has seized.”
Unfortunately, the government won’t allow companies like Facebook to reveal the specific number of spy agency surveillance requests, and forces them to lump this number in with more benign requests for data for criminal cases like kidnappings and robberies. Facebook vows to continue pushing for more transparency around surveillance requests through the Reform Government Surveillance coalition. The company also hopes the government will pass the USA FREEDOM Act, which would limit bulk surveillance through requests by the FISA court.
While some believe Facebook is in bed with the spy agencies, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly insisted that the social network only gives up data it’s legally required to and does not volunteer data or do anything to make its collections easier. Facebook’s mission and business model both depend on users trusting it with their personal data, so few are so incentivized to fight to keep that data private.