On Tuesday, Facebook published the latest transparency report, its third Government Requests Report. For anyone concerned about the government snooping on his or her data, the results are not pleasing. Privacy issues are the main concern in the age of big data. Governments used to be the privileged owners of large data sets, but private companies turned into competitors once the Internet grew.
Chris Sonderby, Facebook Deputy General Counsel introduced the report in a blog post. The federal agencies sent Facebook more than 35,000 data requests. The rate of requests grew by almost a quarter compared to the same period of 2013. More than 15,000 requests referred to US citizens, but they touched over 23,000 Facebook accounts. The company answered positively in about 80 percent of the cases.
A roughly similar rate of response was noted when approximately 7,600 data requests in the form of search warrants were issued by the U.S. federal agencies. Local laws obliged Facebook to block 19 percent more content than in the first half of 2013.
“As we’ve said before, we scrutinize every government request we receive for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and push back hard when we find deficiencies or are served with overly broad requests.”
Facebook highlighted another relevant recent occurrence. Although by now Facebook got used to being asked to hand over user data, a New York court asked a pack of 400 accounts at once. Sonderby made it clear that Facebook fought aggressively against such requests. In June, the company complained that the request is unconstitutional and took the matter to court.
“We’ve argued that these overly broad warrants violate the privacy rights of the people on Facebook and ignore constitutional safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures,” Sonderby wrote. “Despite a setback in the lower court, we’re aggressively pursuing an appeal to a higher court to invalidate these sweeping warrants and to force the government to return the data it has seized.”
The lower court responded that an online service provider cannot contest the warrants, an answer underscoring a terribly anachronistic body of law. Facebook awaits an answer from a higher court until the end of the year.
Facebook is not the only company facing the aggressive treatment. In September, Google said that the rate of data requests from governments rose by 15 percent.