Despite the anti-American sentiments resulting from the Snowden revelations, governments from all over the world have been increasingly demanding data from social media companies. According to Facebook’s latest report on government requests, a growing number of governments are demanding that Facebook turn over data to aid law enforcement investigations. Ironically, other counties are increasingly stepping up their attempts to block content that violates local law.
Facebook said that the number of government requests for account data was up eighteen percent, from 35,051 requests in the second half of 2014 to 41,214 in the first half of 2015. The United States topped the list of countries demanding Facebook user data, filing 17,577 requests about the accounts of 26,579 users. Of the total requests made by U.S. law enforcement, search warrants claimed the highest request number, followed by subpoenas for non-content information. About 80 percent of such requests resulted in Facebook handing over at least some data.
In a statement released by the company’s general counsel, Facebook announced that it “does not provide any government with ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s data.” Instead, “[i]f a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back hard and will fight in court, if necessary.”
In the same timeframe, the number of restricted pieces of content also surged 112 percent, from 9,707 in the second half of 2014 to 20,568 in the first half of 2015. India was named as the overwhelming leader, with 15,155 pieces of content restricted. Such content included anti-religious and hate speech that was believed to have the potential to incite unrest and disharmony within the country.
This country-by-country report, which Facebook has released for the past two years, is intended to bring transparency to the increasing yearly demands for user data.
Following the Paris bombings, there has been heightened polarization between those supporting government surveillance and content restriction, and those in favor of protecting citizens’ privacy. While European governments now admit that they too demand data for national security purposes, technologists and privacy advocates continue to point out that “back doors” unacceptably compromise and undermine privacy systems. Laws similar to the U.S. Patriot Act are expected to be enacted in Europe.
Notably, the French government monitored their own citizens even before the Snowden revelations, despite their pre-bombing criticisms against U.S. practices. Facebook reports that France requested information for nearly 5,300 users in 2014. Germany, whose data privacy authorities have been one of the harshest critics of the surveillance practices of the U.S. before the bombings, actually had approximately 300 more requests than France for the same period.