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By 28 August 2013 | Categories: news

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Apparently, one’s parents, spouse, that creepy ex or stalker and one’s next employer accessing your Facebook details, are not the only prying eyes the Facebook-obsessed need be cognisant of. The world’s governments are also very interested in the information contained within certain Facebook accounts as well.

According to the company’s newly released Global Government Requests Report, government agencies requested access approximately 26 607 times in the first six months of this year alone, with a large chunk of these (12 000) coming from the US.

Additionally, the report reveals that the US government requested access to the accounts of 21 000 users; a substantial portion of the total 38 000 users’ accounts that governments globally wanted to scrutinise. Perhaps surprisingly, the country trailing behind the US for the most number of requests was India, at 3 245.

Locally, only 14 requests were made by the South African government, for the account details of nine individuals.

Criminals only need apply

According to Facebook, the requests made are not without good reason.

The company explained that governments make requests to it, as do many other companies, seeking account information in official investigations. The report further includes government requests based on both criminal, and national security, reasons.

Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel explained that the vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings. “In many of these cases, these government requests seek basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service. Other requests may also seek IP address logs or actual account content. We have strict guidelines in place to deal with all government data requests,” he elaborated.

Reasons and Reassurances

Stretch stressed that Facebook had stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests. “We believe this process protects the data of the people who use our service, and requires governments to meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of our users. We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and require a detailed description of the legal and factual bases for each request.

We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests. When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name,” he continued.

To the point

Apparently though, and perhaps in the wake of the suspicion and fear engendered by PRISM, Facebook has undertaken to release this report regularly in the future. If PRISM and the resulting backlash on companies the likes of Facebook and Microsoft has proved anything, it is just what a fragile – and vital – thing user trust really is.

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