Facebook has released its Transparency Report for the first half of 2018, detailing the nature and extent of government requests it received over this period.
The company noted that government requests for user account data increased by 26% globally compared to the second half of 2017, increasing from 82,341 to 103,815 requests.
Requests from the US government increased by 30%, with 56% of those requests including a non-disclosure order preventing Facebook from notifying affected users.
“Maintaining transparency around the nature and extent of the government requests we receive for user data, and how we make decisions about what content stays up or what comes down on Facebook, is really important to us,” Facebook said.
“Each half we issue a Transparency Report to share what we’ve seen in these areas and believe that this kind of transparency helps hold governments and Facebook accountable.”
The Transparency Report includes information on government requests across all countries in which Facebook operates.
We have inspected the requests made by the South African government over the period from January – June 2018 below.
South African requests
During the first half of 2018, the South African government made a total of nine requests for user information from Facebook.
The company said that it produced at least some data for 78% of these requests.
Two legal process requests were filed along with seven emergency requests, with the South African government requesting information on a total of 12 user accounts.
This number of requests is slightly higher than the eight requests filed in the second half of 2017, and is the highest number filed by the South African government since the first half of 2013.
The government made 14 requests for Facebook data in the first half of 2013, although Facebook did not produce any user account data in any of these cases.
The company said that every request it receives is carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency and it may reject requests which are overly broad or vague.
Facebook’s stance on government requests
Facebook stated in its Transparency Report that it carefully inspects each government request it receives to ensure they are legally valid.
“If a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back, and will fight in court, if necessary,” Facebook said.
“In June, for example, a criminal court in Brazil ordered Facebook Brazil to wiretap all Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger accounts from a specific location and timeframe and threatened a penalty if we didn’t deliver the information.”
Facebook appealed this order, stating that it violated users’ privacy rights, and the court of appeals found in favour of the social media platform, suspending the order.
The company said it has seen a slight increase in the percentage of content restricted based on local law, and identified 48 disruptions of Facebook services in eight countries.
Facebook said it is “deeply concerned” by these Internet disruptions, as they prevent users from communicating and threaten the growth of small businesses.