By Chris Sonderby, Deputy General Counsel
Today we are releasing our latest Global Government Requests Report for the first half of 2016, which details the number of government requests we received for data, as well as the number of items restricted for violating local law in countries where our service is available.
Government requests for account data increased by 27% globally compared to the last half of 2015, increasing from 46,710 to 59,229 requests. The majority of data requests we received from law enforcement in the United States, or approximately 56%, contained a non-disclosure order that prohibited us from notifying the user. As for content restriction requests, the number of items restricted for violating local law decreased by 83% from 55,827 to 9,663. Last cycle’s figures had been elevated primarily by French content restrictions of a single image from the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks.
For the first time, our report includes information about the requests we receive from governments around the world to preserve data pending receipt of formal legal process. As we describe in our law enforcement guidelines, when we receive a preservation request, we will preserve a temporary snapshot of the relevant account information. We do not disclose any of the preserved records unless and until we receive formal and valid legal process. During this reporting period, we received 38,675 preservation requests for 67,129 accounts.
In addition, we have expanded our reporting of emergency requests and disclosures to include countries outside the United States. In cases of emergency, Facebook may disclose information where we believe that the matter involves imminent risk of serious injury or death. In all of these cases, we require law enforcement to describe the emergency and explain how the requested disclosure might prevent harm. In this reporting period, we received 3,016 emergency requests for 4,192 accounts.
Finally, as a result of transparency reforms introduced this year by the USA Freedom Act, our report also contains additional information concerning National Security Letters (NSLs). Under a process mandated by the Act for lifting nondisclosure obligations, the government lifted a gag requirement on one NSL issued in the second half of 2015. Accordingly, we have updated the range of NSLs in that half from 0-499 to 1-499. The NSL itself, as well as the government’s authorization letter, are available here.
As we have previously emphasized, we apply a rigorous approach to every government request we receive to protect the information of the people who use our services. We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request, and challenge those that are deficient or overly broad. We do not provide governments with “back doors” or direct access to people’s information. 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.