According to Facebook’s biannual transparency report released this week, government requests for Facebook user data rose 13 percent in the second half of 2015. The number of posts the site censored to comply with local laws around the world also doubled.
Facebook received 19,235 requests for user data from the U.S. government, by far the most from any country in the world. (India is a distant second with a little over 5,200 requests.) Facebook provided the information in about 81 percent of cases, and in about 60 percent of cases the request came with a gag order — meaning Facebook couldn’t tell affected users that their info had been handed over to the government. Interestingly, the nearly-doubled amount of censored posts stem almost entirely from one photo in France in the wake of the Paris terror attacks that needed to be removed.
The site was also quick to emphasize that it does not provide government agencies with direct access to user info, and that it is willing to fight for user privacy when it feels it’s appropriate.
“As we have emphasized many times, Facebook does not provide any government with ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s data. We scrutinize each request for user data we receive for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request. If a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back hard and will fight in court, if necessary,” Facebook said.
It’s good that Facebook is transparent in its cooperation with the government, but the fact that so much information still gets handed over is troubling, to say the least.