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Summary:

Facebook is sharing data for the first time about how often the government asks for information about its users. In doing so, it is joining an industry-wide fight by tech companies to shine more light on surveillance and data requests.

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According to Facebook, police and other agencies in the US asked for user data on more than 11,000 occasions during the first half of 2013, a number that included more than 20,000 individual Facebook users.

The numbers come by way of the social network’s first Transparency Report, a document that also lists figures for other countries around the world, though U.S. requests are by far the highest. Facebook did not hand over information in every case.

The 11,000 US data requests are more than the approximately 8,000 requests received by Google for a similar time frame. According to Facebook, many of the requests were for criminal matters like robbery and kidnappings.

The social network, however, did not offer more insight into the source of the requests — and, in particular, did not specify how many were related to the federal government’s controversial program of national security letters. Here are screenshots that show how the two companies presented the data:

This one, from Facebook, shows different countries’ data requests (the first column is number of requests, the second is number of users affected) and the frequency that such data was turned over:

Facebook Transparency screenshot

The Google report includes country comparisons but also breaks down the type of request, and how this has evolved over time. Here’s a screenshot from US data:

Google Transparency screenshot

The category breakdown is important in part because of the growing media attention on the federal government’s surveillance programs. Currently, Google is reporting the number of national security letters as a range, but is unable to say anything about so-called FISA letters — secret court orders that are nominally used to spy on foreigners but that many fear also target Americans. Google and Microsoft are now locked in a largely secret battle with the secret spy court for the right to publicize FISA information.

Facebook’s inaugural Transparency Report puts it in the company of Google, Twitter and other tech firms that are now publishing reports about data requests on a regular basis.

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  1. Indian gov also raised around 5,000 request!!

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