With online users close to panic over news about the NSA having direct access to user data via Internet companies’ servers, Facebook and Microsoft released reports on governmental data requests in an attempt to calm down users. Facebook and Microsoft have thus hit a new milestone, becoming the first companies in the Internet market to disclose how many requests governments have made to get access to user information.
Earlier this week, reports that the National Security Agency has been getting direct access to user private data via Internet companies caused a lot of scrutiny. Edward Snowden told The Guardian, the NSA has been using “PRISM” to keep tabs on users, recording phone calls, messages and private online conversations. Facebook and Microsoft reacted swiftly in an attempt to calm down users and have cut deals with the authorities that allow them to publish the number of gov data requests.
For the six months ending December 31, 2012, Facebook has received a maximum of 10,000 user-data requests from local, state and federal US government, which translated in 18,000 to 19,000 accounts targeted for various reasons, including national security and terrorist threats. Faacebook noted that number represents only “a tiny fraction of one percent of our user accounts” from more than 1.1 billion active users worldwide each month.
Friday, Ted Ullyot, general counsel for Facebook, announced the release of a transparency report on gov data requests, noting the deal the company cut with the authorities allows them to publish only the number and not the specific reason why a data request was subjected. Ullyot explained “these requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat”. Ullyot also noted that Facebook responds “only as required by law” and is frequently rejecting “such requests outright”.
Microsoft received in the same time frame as Facebook, “between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts from U.S. governmental entities”. Once again, just like Facebook, Microsoft notes that the number is a “tiny fraction” of its global customer base.