By Chris Sonderby, Deputy General Counsel
Today we are releasing our latest Global Government Requests Report as part of a broader effort to reform government surveillance in countries around the world by providing more transparency.
This report, which covers the second half of 2015, provides information about the number of government requests we received for data, and the number of items restricted for violating local law in countries where our service is available. The report also includes updated information about the national security requests we received from U.S. authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and through National Security Letters.
Overall, we continue to see an increase globally in government requests for user data and content restrictions pursuant to local law. Government requests for account data increased by 13%, from 41,214 requests to 46,763. The number of items restricted for violating local law increased over the first half of 2015, to 55,827 items, up from 20,568.
We’ve added several case studies to give people actual examples of government requests to restrict content and the resulting actions taken by Facebook. For instance, one of the case studies explains that the increase in restricted content in this half is almost entirely due to one photo related to the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. The photo was alleged to violate French laws related to protecting human dignity. We restricted access to more than 32,000 copies of the photo, in France only, in response to a legal request from the French government.
For the first time, we are also reporting information about non-disclosure orders: approximately 60% of the requests we received for user data from authorities in the United States contained a non-disclosure order that prohibited us from notifying the user. Finally, consistent with legal changes in the United States, we’ve updated our reporting on national security requests to bands of 500 (instead of bands of 1000) for both the current and previous reports.
We recognize there are serious threats to public safety and that law enforcement has an important responsibility to keep people safe. Our legal and safety teams work hard to respond to legitimate law enforcement requests while fulfilling our responsibility to protect people’s privacy and security. We will continue to advocate for improvements to the laws and procedures that govern international law enforcement cooperation and government access to information. We support the Email Privacy Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, because it would codify the warrant-for-content requirement and update an old law on government access to Internet communications. We also support efforts to improve the efficiency of the Mutual Legal Assistance process and to establish agreements between governments that resolve conflicts of laws and allow providers to respond to foreign law enforcement requests in a manner consistent with international human rights.
As we have emphasized many times, Facebook does not provide any government with “back doors” or direct access to people’s data. We scrutinize each request for user data we receive for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request. If a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back hard and will fight in court, if necessary.
Over the last few years, we’ve regularly published information about the nature and extent of the requests we receive. To protect the information of the people that use our service, we will continue to apply a rigorous approach to every government request we receive. We’ll also keep working with partners in industry and civil society to push governments around the world to reform surveillance in a way that protects their citizens’ safety and security while respecting their rights and freedoms.
Please see the full report for more information.