Australian government requests data from Facebook

Summary:The Australian government had a 64 percent success rate in obtaining data from 601 Australian-held Facebook accounts in the first six months of 2013.

Facebook is handing over personal information about hundreds of its users to Australian government agents, a new transparency report has revealed.

In the first six months of 2013, the social network giant received 546 requests for access to information from 601 Australian-held accounts.

It granted 349 — 64 percent — of those requests, handing over information ranging from how long accounts have been in use through to account content and internet protocol (IP) address logs.

Globally, 74 governments made 26,000 requests for access to information from 38,000 Facebook accounts in the first half of 2013, according to Facebook's first Global Government Requests Report.

The US demanded access to 20,000 accounts, with 79 percent of those requests granted.

India demanded access to 4,144 accounts, followed by the UK (2,337), Italy (2,306), Germany (2,068), and France (1,598).

"The vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings," Facebook's general counsel Colin Stretch said in a blog post accompanying its report.

Facebook, which has 9 million daily Australian users, gave no further detail about the precise source of the requests — for example, what percentage were made by law enforcement, intelligence, or other agencies.

Comment has been sought from the Australian Federal Police.

Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Roger Clarke acknowledged that data requests can help solve serious crimes and find missing people.

But he said they must face intense scrutiny before being granted.

"Every organisation, social media and otherwise, must have a first-round response of 'show me your search warrant'," he told AAP.

"Sure, some agencies have demanded powers. So put the onus on them to communicate what that power is. Many 'requests' will then fizzle; some won't.

"And at least some, perhaps many, of the ones that survive would be supported by public interest organisations."

Facebook said all data requests it receives must meet a "very high legal bar", and that it "fights" some requests.

Tech firms have faced increased pressure to disclose government data requests since June, when former US government contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of PRISM, a large program that saw nine companies turn over user data to the US National Security Agency.

Twitter recently revealed that the Australian government demanded access to data from 58 Twitter accounts in the first half of 2013, up from fewer than 10 users in the second half of 2012.

Google's latest figures show that in the second half of 2012, it received 584 requests for access to information about 711 Australian users or accounts.

It granted access in 65 percent of those cases.

Microsoft and Yahoo are among the other companies that have recently published data disclosure logs.

Topics: Government, Government : AU, Privacy, Social Enterprise

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