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US Requested Tens of Thousands of Facebook Users' Data in Just 6 Months

Report welcome, but "governments don't necessarily need intermediaries like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to get our data."

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The U.S. requested data on between 20,000 and 21,000 Facebook users during the first six months of 2013, the social networking site announced on Tuesday.

"Whereas transparency reports detail lawful access requests, we are living in a world where governments exploit over-permissive, vague and outdated laws with impunity." (Photo: West McGowan/cc/flickr) Facebook revealed the number of requests as part of its first-ever Global Government Requests Report.

While over 70 countries made user requests during the six-month period, the vast majority were from the U.S..  India came in second, requesting data on 4,144 users, and the U.K. came in third, requesting data on 2,337 users.

"Unlike other countries, which had an exact figure, the US data was given as a range due to it being forbidden for companies to disclose how many requests they have had," BBC News reported.

Facebook stated, "We continue to push the United States government to allow more transparency regarding these requests, including specific numbers and types of national security-related requests. We will publish updated information for the United States as soon as we obtain legal authorization to do so."

Though the "vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings," the report includes "both criminal and national security requests," Facebook noted.

Writing on Facebook's new transparency information, TechCrunch reported Tuesday:

The “Five Eyes” group of nations that share signal intelligence (United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) had at least 100 requests in the first six months of the year. New Zealand and Canada included. That matters. It indicates that countries participating in mass surveillance do so in every way possible. I think that the number of requests helps us understand the zeal of these nations to look into private activity.

UK-based surveillance watchdog Privacy International welcomed Facebook's transparency report, but said that greater legal protections must in place given the "terrifying reality—that governments don't necessarily need intermediaries like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to get our data."  They said in a statement:

we are left with a disturbingly hollow feeling regarding Facebook's gesture, and it has little to do with Facebook itself. Since documents leaked by Edward Snowden have been published and analysed, the veil has been lifted on what information governments actually collect about us. [...]

Whereas transparency reports detail lawful access requests, we are living in a world where governments exploit over-permissive, vague and outdated laws with impunity. What is needed is a new strong legal framework that all governments must abide by. Until then companies like Facebook are left with the burden of having to determine what information may be 'lawfully' demanded by each country, and deciding what they can or cannot release.  This is too much to ask of these companies, and too great a trust to be placed in them.

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