Facebook today revealed that the Indian government had asked for access to information of 4,144 users of the social network in the first half of 2013. India sent 3,245 requests to Facebook during the period, making it the second largest country in terms of requests for information after the United States. Facebook complied with 50 percent of the requests, according to data released by the company in its first ever Global Governments Request Report.
“As we have made clear in recent weeks, we have 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,” Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel explained in a statement. “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 added.
According to the statistics released by Facebook, 74 countries requested information on 37,954 users with the United States topping the list with request for information related to over 21,000 accounts. Facebook says it will continue to release such transparency reports, which have become crucial for users after news emerged that the NSA was covertly accessing online data on people via companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others via its PRISM program.
“We believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent. Government transparency and public safety are not mutually exclusive ideals. Each can exist simultaneously in free and open societies, and they help make us stronger,” Stretch added.
The trend of the United States and India topping the charts for user requests does not come as a surprise considering that was the case when Google announced its transparency report in January this year. According to Google, India had requested for information 2,431 times related to 4,106 users and 66 percent of the requests led to information being produced by Google.
However, the friction between governments and online services like Google, Facebook and Twitter among others is only expected to increase in the coming times as they become an integral part of daily lives of online citizens. There are over 82 million users on Facebook from India. The Delhi High Court directed Google and Facebook last week to display on their websites the name and contact details of their grievance officers.
“We direct Google Inc and Facebook Inc to display the name of grievance officer on their respective sites. We also direct other intermediaries that the compliance (of the rules) be done in two weeks,” the court said. “Just because you are a foreign company, you cannot flout the law. Like us, you are bound by the rule of law of this country,” the court added, also asking the central government to take steps to ensure that the social networking sites comply with the rules.