In the first 6 months of 2013, Facebook fielded orders from 74 countries for information about 37,954 users, according a transparency report released by the company Tuesday. The U.S. government made far more requests than any other nation, seeking data from about 20,000 Facebook accounts — more than half of all requested users. Facebook cooperated with 79 percent of the U.S.’s requests.
It is unclear how many requests came from law enforcement versus intelligence agencies. According to the report, “the vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings.” It is also unclear how much information Facebook disclosed for each account. In some cases, the government may have simply gotten a name, while in others, it could well have received photos or messages.
The Turkish government, however, provides at least one example of inappropriate information seeking, having targeted social media as a way to hunt down protesters and break up the demonstrations that swept the nation earlier this summer. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went so far as to call social media “the worst menace to society.” One Turkish official claimed Facebook was working with the government to identify protesters in June, but the company heatedly denied the charge, saying it only granted “a small fraction” of requests if there was an immediate threat to a life. Now, the data show Facebook cooperated with about 45 of 96 orders from the Turkish government.
While the report shows the exact number of requests and targeted people from every other country, only inexact ranges of American requests are available, due to the myriad national security gag orders from the FBI and FISA courts. Tech companies suffering backlash from the NSA surveillance revelations are now chafing at these confidentiality orders; tech giants Google and Microsoft are currently fighting in secret court for the right to disclose the number of surveillance requests they receive.