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Facebook reveals 27 percent rise in government requests for user data

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In its latest report on global government requests, Facebook revealed a 27 percent rise in requests for user account data in the first half of 2016.

Overall, Facebook received 59,229 requests during the first six months of the year, compared to 46,710 requests in the latter half of 2015.

By far the largest amount of data requests (23,854) were from law enforcement agencies in the United States. The company complied with 80.65 percent of the data requests in the U.S. The majority of these requests (approximately 56 percent) contained a nondisclosure order that prevented Facebook from notifying the user that their data was being handed over.

Facebook claims it applies “a rigorous approach” to every government request it receives in order to “protect the information” of the people that use its service. “We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request, and challenge those that are deficient or overly broad,” writes Facebook in its blog post. “We do not provide governments with “back doors” or direct access to people’s information.”

This year alone, Facebook has drawn the criticism of lawmakers and officials from Israel, Germany, and the United Kingdom. over its content reporting process. Its detractors claim it is obstructing “terror investigations” and failing to curb the recruitment activity of extremist groups on its platform. In its response to Digital Trends in August, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We treat take-down requests by law enforcement with the highest urgency.”

Facebook is also reporting that its content restriction requests (items blocked or taken down for violating local law) dropped 83 percent compared to the last half of 2015 — from 55,827 to 9,663. The last cycle’s figures were unusually high due to French content restrictions of a single image from the November 13 Paris attacks.

For the first time, Facebook is also including information about the requests it receives from global governments to preserve data pending receipt of formal legal process. In general, a preservation request from a law enforcement agency sees Facebook preserve a temporary snapshot of the data in question. During the first half of 2016 Facebook received 38,675 preservation requests for 67,129 accounts.

Additionally, law enforcement made 3,016 emergency requests (relating to matters that involve imminent risk or threat) for 4,192 accounts. Due to reforms this year by the USA Freedom Act, Facebook is also offering information about National Security Letters (NSLs).

Facebook has shared an NSL it received from the Jacksonville, Florida, FBI office, as well as the government’s authorization letter permitting the company to disclose the information at its own discretion. As a result, it updated the range of NSLs from the second half of 2015 from 0-499 to 1-499. The NSL is available here, and you can view the entire Global Government Requests Report here.

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