According to social networking giant Facebook, law enforcement agencies from 74 countries have demanded information on some 38,000 users via 26,000 requests in the first half of 2013. More than 20,000 of the requests come from United States based agencies.
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Prior to this, Facebook announced that received 9,000 to 10,000 requests in the six-month data mining period ending December 31, 2012. Within those requests, 18,000 to 19,000 accounts were targeted. The request was said to have come from law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels.
Other companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple have released numbers following the NSA data mining revelation in June. Similar to Facebook’s initial announcement only the number of requests, number of accounts, scope of the agencies, and soft examples for the use of the information was given. The statements released at the time were also almost identical across the companies with only the introductions and statistics offered being different.
All statements also attempted to alleviate concerns by stating how the amount requested only represents a small portion of their total user base.
As expected, there’s very little to gather from the numbers. What portion of the 38,000 users are wanted or suspected of severe crimes? What portion are simply witnesses to a crime that these agencies have been trying to crack? Simply put, an air of vagueness only fuels suspicion as opposed to easing it.
This isn’t to say that these stats are just as vague as the first. In this case specific countries that the requests originate from are given and what percentage were granted. While the U.S government would only allow for Facebook to give ranges—this time the amount is between 11,000 and 12,000—the company did say that the U.S was granted 79% of their requests. During the first batch of requests ending December 31, 2012, the company granted around 60% of requests.
Also on the information request list is Turkey. Authorities have put in 96 requests targeting 173 users. Of those 96 cases, Facebook provided information on roughly 45, but provided no specific details as to how much was information was given or why.
Facebook stated in the past that requests granted were not related to giving information about organizers to the government during the May and June protests. Spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said, “The data included in the report related to Turkey is about child endangerment and emergency law enforcement requests.”
In a blog post, Facebook’s Vice President Colin Stretch said “We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests. When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name.”
It has been mentioned by government officials that criminal investigations are more common place than security matters when it comes to inquiring about information. In the initial statements released by Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and other companies in June the primary reasons given for the inquiries were related to criminal investigations such as kidnappings, assaults, and cold cases.
Facebook stated that it would release law enforcement information requests on a regular basis. Perhaps as they become more common place more specific, non-compromising information will be given such as what percentage are severe crimes and what percentage are merely witnesses for a criminal investigation.