Major online companies reveal thousands of info requests worldwide from NSA

4 Feb 2014

NSA headquarters. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Companies including Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo! have released their 2013 transparency reports, showing how governments all over the world requested access to user information thousands of times.

With the revelations regarding former CIA contractor Edward Snowden and the American National Security Agency’s (NSA) dealing with snooping on millions of people across the globe, the most affected companies are now looking to open the books and reveal how many requests they have had from governments not just in the US, but across the world.

On the milestone of reaching its 10th year in business, Facebook was one of the first to release its 2013 Global Governments Request Report. The social network promises to release the report on a much more regular basis.

The report covers the first six months of the year up to and including 30 June and has been compiled by Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch.

Speaking of the report, Stretch emphasised that with the release of Facebook’s report, governments should follow suit in terms of transparency: “We strongly encourage all governments to provide greater transparency about their efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure.”

The figures released show a startling majority of formal user-data requests came from the US, which accounted for between 20-21,000 unique users’ account information, with 79pc of these requests granted partial or full access to Facebook.

India was the next largest requester of information, requesting 4,144 account details and gaining access to half of them.

Irish users may be interested that 40 accounts were requested by the Government, with 71pc giving partial or full access to data.


Microsoft has put considerable emphasis on making the public aware that it is only a small percentage of accounts that were accessed over the entire network, but this may do little to ease the fears of the 66,539 accounts (both Microsoft and Skype) that received 37,196 requests from law enforcement agencies in the first six months of this year. 

Once again, the US accounts for the largest number of requests, totalling 22,316, just under 60pc of all requests made by world governments.

Just under 11pc of the 18,809 Microsoft-specific requests were given private information while only 8.4pc were rejected permission outright.

Ireland disclosed content of 2.5pc of the 69 accounts requested by the Irish Government.

Microsoft transparency Ireland

Yahoo! and LinkedIn

Yahoo! and LinkedIn also released their reports but show a much smaller number of requests in the overall scheme of things or have provided limited information about figures.

Yahoo!’s release has been particularly vague, only showing figures for the US’ requests under the Foreign Information Secrets Act (FISA), with the company confirming it had requests for data for between 30-31,000 accounts.

LinkedIn had the fewest number of requests among the big companies, accounting for a total of only 97 accounts, and granting access to just less than half of those accounts.

The business networking site does, however, detail what category of requests were asked of it, with subpoenas making up the highest figure of 88pc and 8pc search warrants.

All companies involved have been under much higher scrutiny following the PRISM programme data-mining revelations that include the NSA’s alleged involvement in a worldwide operation to collect as much information as possible from these companies after PRISM was enacted in 2007 under then-US President George W Bush.  

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic