Facebook reaches agreement to disclose national security-related data requests

Written on:June 14, 2013
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Facebook announced late Friday evening that it has reached an agreement with national security authorities that allows it to provide more information to the public about the government’s requests for user data. The company will now be able to include all U.S. national security-related requests in its disclosure.

As we reported earlier this week, Facebook, along with Microsoft and Google, has been pushing for the right to reveal more about its participation in the government’s PRISM program, which involved snooping on users of many of the big internet services. The public requests by these companies were clearly an effort to push back against allegations that some of them essentially opened their doors to government spying.

Facebook reported that from June to December of 2012, the government made between 9,000 and 10,000 requests involving user data, and these requests affected between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts — clearly a small percentage of the 1 billion active users on the network.

From the Facebook press release, which can be found in its entirety on the company’s site, the company explains the agreement it reached regarding requests:

Since this story was first reported, we’ve been in discussions with U.S. national security authorities urging them to allow more transparency and flexibility around national security-related orders we are required to comply with. We’re pleased that as a result of our discussions, we can now include in a transparency report all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters) – which until now no company has been permitted to do. As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range. This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds.

For the six months ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received from any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests) – was between 9,000 and 10,000. These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat. The total number of Facebook user accounts for which data was requested pursuant to the entirety of those 9-10 thousand requests was between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.

With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of one percent of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government request (including criminal and national security-related requests) in the past six months. We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved, and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive.

This post was continually updated as the story developed.

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