Government requests for Facebook user data up 13 percent

Facebook released its biannual transparency report today, detailing the requests for user data it received from government agencies in the second half of 2015. The report includes requests received by Facebook as well as Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Facebook also disclosed how many posts it censors for violating local law in the countries where it operates.

The social media company revealed that government requests for user data rose 13 percent and the number of posts restricted due to local laws more than doubled.

The sharp increase in number of posts restricted — up from 20,568 items to 55,827 — is almost entirely due to a single image from the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, Facebook says. The French government claimed the image, which was taken inside the Bataclan theater after the attacks and depicted several victims’ remains, violated the nation’s laws protecting human dignity. Facebook responded by restricting access to over 32,000 copies of the image. Facebook says access to the photo was restricted only in France.

Facebook also complied with a request from the Indian government to restrict a photo of a boy urinating on the nation’s flag.

Facebook received 19,235 requests for user data from US government agencies and provided information in 81.41% of those cases. Of those requests, 5,288 were made by subpoena, a practice that Facebook hopes to see end with the passage of the Email Privacy Act. The Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously yesterday, would require law enforcement to get a warrant before accessing users’ data.

“We support the Email Privacy Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, because it would codify the warrant-for-content requirement and update an old law on government access to Internet communications,” Facebook said in its announcement of the transparency report.

The United States is by far the most frequent requester of Facebook user data, with India trailing behind as a distant second at only 5,561 requests.

Facebook’s transparency report also contains an indirect nod to lawsuits filed by Microsoft and Twitter against the U.S. Department of Justice. Both companies are fighting in court to limit the use of non-disclosure orders that often accompany government requests for data. The non-disclosure orders prevent companies from notifying users when their data is requested. However, it doesn’t seem that Facebook will be joining the fight — the company merely noted that about 60% of the requests it receives from US authorities come with a non-disclosure order. It is the first time that Facebook has included data about the orders in its transparency report.