According to Facebook, between Jan. 1 and June 30, government groups in more than 70 countries – including the the UK, Germany, and Australia – asked for information on users. In the United States alone, for instance, officials placed between 11,000 and 12,000 requests on 20,000 to 21,000 users. Facebook provided "some" data in response to 79 percent of those requests.
In a blog post, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said that governments must "meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of our users." From the report:
[W]e have stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests. We believe this process protects the data of the people who use our service, and requires governments to meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of our users. We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and require a detailed description of the legal and factual bases for each request. We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests.
The report comes as debate over government surveillance – spurred on by disclosures made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – reach a fever pitch in the US. By publishing the number of government requests, Facebook, which has in the past been accused of being glib or careless with user data, clearly hopes to improve its public image.
Not that everyone was impressed.
In a strongly-worded post, the non-profit Privacy International said that Mr. Snowden's leaks belied a "terrifying reality – that governments don't necessarily need intermediaries like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to get our data. They can intercept it over undersea cables, through secret court orders, and through intelligence sharing."