By Lata Jha:
Are our governments beginning to bite their nails increasingly often now? Are they taking themselves way too seriously or are we facing the crisis of insecure governance in our worlds today? Government agents belonging to 74 countries of the world have sent requests to social media giant Facebook seeking information about its users. This could range from basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service to IP address logs and actual account content.
The largest numbers of requests were received from the United States, with American authorities sending between 11,000 and 12,000 requests, these affecting between 20,000 and 21,000 users. This was followed by India with 3,245 requests (affecting 4,144 users), and Britain with 1,975 requests (affecting 2,337 users).
According to the company’s first ‘transparency’ report, governments have made a lot of requests seeking account information of users for help in official investigations. The vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings.
Facebook meanwhile believes, it is committed to protecting the privacy of its users. It says it has strict guidelines in place to deal with all these government data requests, and many of these are often refused. Statistics say that in the US, for example, 21 per cent of data requests were refused in the first half of 2013, while in the UK, 32 per cent were declined. The social media company makes sure it gets these governments to meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of its users.
Officials claim that each request is scrutinised to meet standards of legal sufficiency under their own terms and the strict letter of the law. The company requires a detailed description of the legal and factual bases to part with information for each request. They fight a lot of these requests, pushing them back when they find legal deficiencies in them or feel they are dealing with overly broad or vague requests. In case they are forced to comply with a particular request, they frequently share only basic user information, such as name.
Interestingly, the number of these requests are alarmingly up from June, when Facebook revealed that it had received between 9,000 and 10,000 data requests from all government entities in the last six months of 2012. The orders involved the accounts of between 18,000 -19,000 Facebook users.
Facebook has said that it plans to release these transparency reports regularly in the future, and that subsequent reports will provide even more information about the requests it receives from law enforcement authorities. Like a lot of us, the company believes that government transparency and public safety are not mutually exclusive ideals. They can exist in free, open and liberal societies which accord their members due rights and respect.
But the question is, if enough of us truly live in such societies.