Facebook data requests from governments jumped 27pc in 2016

22 Dec 2016

Facebook flag. Image: Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock

The number of incidents whereby a government has requested access to a Facebook user’s account have increased again globally in 2016, by a margin of 27pc.

Having accepted that it is now in some shape or form a media company with responsibility to provide truth in a world of increasing fake news, Facebook is also having to come to terms with its reputation as a legal gatekeeper across the world.

Each year, the company publishes a transparency report to reveal the number of times governments across the world have contacted the social network to gain access to user data.

US still dominates number of requests

With more than 1bn users, governments and law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to Facebook as the first port of call, to find any information that might help them find someone of interest to the state.

However, privacy activists are unlikely to be pleased with the news that compared to the last half of 2015, the number of global requests in 2016 have jumped 27pc, from 46,710 to 59,229.

Unlike previous reports, the 2016 report includes information about the requests the company received from governments to preserve data pending receipt of formal legal process, which involves taking a temporary ‘snapshot’ of that user’s information.

During this reporting period, it received 38,675 preservation requests for 67,129 accounts.

Also included in this report for the first time – at least outside its native US – is how many emergency requests were made of Facebook, to reveal details on a person whose life might be at risk.

Requests to block content drops

One noticeable detail from the report that would appear to be good news for privacy campaigners, is the significantly reduced number of requests from governments to block specific content from being shared online.

The figures show that there was an 83pc drop in requests – from 55,827 to 9,663 – since 2015, however, this has been attributed to French content restrictions of a single image from the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks.

Similar to previous years, US law enforcement remains the biggest requester of user information at approximately 56pc, employing a non-disclosure order that prohibited Facebook from notifying the user.

Looking at Ireland, the number of requests to user data have increased on 2015, rising from 56 to 89, with a minor reduction of 4pc in the number of incidents where some data was handed over.

“We scrutinise each request for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request, and challenge those that are deficient or overly broad,” Facebook said.

“We do not provide governments with ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s information.”

Facebook flag. Image: Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic