Facebook Received 40,300 Requests From the Govt Last Year to Access User Data
Facebook revealed that it complied with 52% of these requests. Information regarding the same is available on Facebook’s new transparency portal, which hosts its bi-annual “Government Requests for User Data” report. Of the total number of requests received, 94% (37,865) of requests were via courts; Facebook states that it complied with requests to restrict content 944 times, depending on local laws in that particular region.
Facebook also received more than 2,000 emergency disclosure requests, wherein the company is asked to disclose user information to law enforcement without legal process. The company stated that they can choose to volunteer information to law enforcement organizations if they receive an emergency request.
This data is especially worrying in light of the increasing number of arrests of individuals critical of the ruling party based on their social media statements and activity. Before the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) came to power, the previous government had made roughly 3,250 requests for information from January to June 2013. In 2020, that number stands at 35,600 — a tenfold increase. Even after adjusting for the rising use of the social media platform between 2013-2020, the sharp rise in requests still points to an increase in digital surveillance.
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With the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, this surveillance could be used to target prominent dissenting voices including journalists, academics, activists, and other civil society members.
“We restricted access in India to 878 items in response to directions from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for violating Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, including content against the security of the state and public order. Of these, 10 were restricted temporarily. We also restricted access to 54 items in compliance with court orders,” Facebook said in its report. The justification for the remaining 12 restrictions out of the total 944 remains unclear.
Indian states and central governments also requested data for 62,754 user accounts and made 4,400 requests to preserve data belonging to more than 8,500 accounts. A preservation request, according to Facebook, asks the company to save a snapshot of the requested information. However, Facebook will only disclose this preserved information after a separate access request is made. The number of these requests rose by 13% during July to December 2020 as compared to January to June 2020.
Globally, Facebook received 1,91,013 total requests and 3,20,926 requests for information. Facebook states that it complied with around 72% of these cases.