Blog Post

Facebook stats show government requests up 24% since 2013, 5,000+ FISA requests

The new numbers are out and (surprise!), governments around the world are still getting all up in users’ Facebook business. According its latest “Global Government Requests Report,” Facebook received 34,946 requests for data from governments around the world during the period of January through June this year, which is up 24 percent from the same period a year ago. In the U.S., the total number of data requests grew from 11,000-12,000 to over 15,000 year over year.

And in another somber note, censorship of Facebook content also appears to be on the rise. As a blog post introducing the report noted, “the amount of content restricted because of local laws increased about 19%.”

Such increases, which reflect governments’ growing interest in citizens’ online lives, can appear alarming. But at the same time, actual trends can be hard to discern because the figures do not account for growth in [company]Facebook[/company] accounts or internet access.

Meanwhile, Facebook also provides new details on a country-by-country basis, including the U.S. government’s murky activities under the Patriot Act. These take the effect of “National Security Letters” and so-called “FISA requests,” which reflect controversial legal procedures that companies cannot even disclose in any precise volume or detail.

Facebook must abide by a six-month gag order before even reporting the number of requests it has received, so new NSL and FISA figures are not available. But the figures from an earlier six-month period can now be reported. Here’s a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 7.01.26 PM

You can see read more of the context here, but the 5,000-5,999 range suggests that Facebook is a more popular target of secret federal investigations than some may have suspected.

The new Facebook numbers came on the same day as a high profile appeals court case challenging NSA spy procedures, and at a time when Twitter and other companies are aggressively using so-called warrant canaries in an attempt to call attention to surveillance tactics.

Overall, the tech companies’ push for transparency is a welcome one at a time when the company is still digesting the Edward Snowden revelations. At the same time, however, these style of reports can also produce more noise than signal, and make it harder to evaluate the exact state of surveillance.