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Facebook Reports A Surge In Government Requests For Consumer Data

The United States made 65% of the world’s total data requests to Facebook — more than any other nation.

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American law enforcement agencies remain the global leader in state-sponsored Facebook snooping, according to the social network’s transparency report released Wednesday.

In its biannual report detailing government requests for consumer data, Facebook said such requests rose 18% globally, in the first half of 2015, with 41,214 total requests made by governments around the world.

The United States accounted for 65% of all requests, the most of any nation. American law enforcement agencies sought information like IP addresses, account details, and the content of posts from 26,579 people who use Facebook. That marks an 18% increase over the last six months, which matches the increase globally. Facebook also reported that instances of governments censuring content for violating local law increased by 112%.

In a blog post explaining this latest rundown of government data requests, Chris Sonderby, Facebook’s deputy general counsel, framed the company’s release of the information as part of a broader transparency effort “to reform government surveillance in countries around the world.”

Following the revelations of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed information detailing government spy programs like PRISM, American technology companies have faced increased public scrutiny at home and abroad.

Lawmakers, civil society organizations, and foreign governments have criticized what they see as an all-too-cozy relationship between giant internet corporations and American law enforcement. Industry leaders in Silicon Valley have also complained that foreign business is harder to come by, as some agencies and firms abroad worry that American tech companies may sometimes act as extensions of the U.S. national security state.

Facebook’s transparency report is at least partially an effort to distance the company from such claims. “As we have emphasized before, Facebook does not provide any government with ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s data,” Sonderby said. “If a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back hard and will fight in court, if necessary.”

Facebook’s transparency reports, produced over the last two years, also complicate the notion that social media provides unfettered tools of political liberation. As the increase in government data requests suggest, they are clearly not free of state monitoring.

Hamza Shaban is a technology policy reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Hamza Shaban at Hamza.Shaban@buzzfeed.com.

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