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Facebook: Governments sought data on 38K users

  • Article by: MATT APUZZO
  • Associated Press
  • August 27, 2013 - 7:59 PM

– Government agents in 74 countries demanded information on about 38,000 Facebook users in the first half of this year, with about half the orders coming from authorities in the United States, the company said Tuesday.

The social-networking giant is the latest technology company to release figures on how often governments seek information about customers. Microsoft and Google have done the same.

As with the other companies, it’s difficult to discern much from Facebook’s data, besides the fact that, as users around the globe flocked to the world’s largest social network, police and intelligence agencies followed. Facebook and Twitter have become organizing platforms for activists and, as such, have become targets for governments. During anti-government protests in Turkey in May and June, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called social media “the worst menace to society.”

At the time, Facebook denied it had provided information about protest organizers to the Turkish government. Data released Tuesday show Turkish authorities submitted 96 requests covering 173 users. Facebook said it provided some information in about 45 of those cases.

“We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests,” Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel said in a blog post. “When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name.”

Facebook spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said the company stands by its assertions that it gave no information regarding the Turkey protests. “The data included in the report related to Turkey [are] about child endangerment and emergency law enforcement requests,” she said.

Facebook and other technology companies have been criticized for helping the National Security Agency secretly collect data on customers. Federal law gives government the authority to demand data without specific warrants.

Facebook turned over some data in response to about 60 percent of those requests. It isn’t clear how many of the roughly 26,000 government requests on 38,000 users were for law-enforcement purposes and how many were for intelligence gathering.

Technology and government officials have said criminal investigations are far more common than national security matters as a justification for demanding information. The numbers are imprecise because the federal government forbids companies from revealing how many times they’ve been ordered to turn over information. Facebook released only a range of figures.

© 2014 Star Tribune