In the wake of citizen backlash against tech companies who play nice with surveillance agencies, Facebook is divulging for the first time government requests for user data, citing its "core values" of "transparency and trust."
Just call it Prism crisis control.
Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch in a Tuesday blog post gave a country-by-country overview of government requests during the first half of 2013. Not surprisingly, the U.S. topped the list with 11,000 to 12,000 requests pertaining to more than 20,000 user accounts. Facebook was required by law to fulfill 79 percent of the federal government's requests by providing at least some data.
The report offers a first look at the volume of requests Facebook deals with, but not much in the way of detail. Stretch said Facebook hopes to be even more detailed in future reports, but with national security on the line, it seems unlikely that the social network will be able to disclose information about specific requests.
"We hope this report will be useful to our users in the ongoing debate about the proper standards for government requests for user information in official investigations," Stretch wrote. "And while we view this compilation as an important first report--it will not be our last. In coming reports, we hope to be able to provide even more information about the requests we receive from law enforcement authorities."
How many countries are using Facebook to prevent terrorist attacks and how many are seeking out activists? That's a question Facebook might not be able to answer. Countries in the hot seat for squashing citizen protests, like Turkey and Egypt, put in some of their own requests, but Facebook often shot them down--the network fulfilled none of Egypt's requests and less than half of Turkey's.
India ranked second behind the U.S. with 3245 requests for 4144 user accounts. Facebook complied with half of the country's requests.