Australian govt makes frequent requests for Facebook user data

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Australian govt makes frequent requests for Facebook user data

Social network aims to limit data provided.

Social networking giant Facebook has published its first report on government requests for user data, and Australia features prominently in it.

For the six months to June 30 this year, the Australian government made a total of 546 requests for user data, covering 601 Facebook users and accounts.

This makes Australian authorities the seventh most frequent requesters of Facebook user information of the 72 countries listed.

Facebook provided "some data" to authorities for 64 per cent of the requests from Australia.

While the social network did not provide details on specific requests, it said the vast majority related to criminal cases such as robberies and kidnappings. However, the requests also covered national security matters, Facebook said.

United States authorities were by far the largest requesters of Facebook user data, making 11,000 to 12,000 demands up to June 30, covering 20,000 to 21,000 users and accounts. Facebook is not allowed by the US government to provide an exact figure on how many requests authorities have made, and can only give a range.

India, Germany, France, Italy and the UK also requested data for thousands of Facebook users in the six-month period covered by the report.

Colin Stretch, Facebook's general legal counsel, said the social network aimed to limit the amount of data it revealed to government agencies, and that the social network had a very stringent process in place to handle information requests.

US authorities are required to produce a valid subpoeana for Facebook to disclose basic subscriber records, which could include the name of the user and how long they've been on the social network. Credit card details, email addresses and the IP addresses used to access Facebook could also be handed over, if available.

Court orders and search warrants are required for US authorities for contents of communications and messages, photos, videos, wall posts and location information, a Facebook spokesperson said.

For international requests, Facebook described the process: 

"We disclose account records solely in accordance with our terms of service and applicable law.

A Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request or letter rogatory may be required to compel the disclosure of the contents of an account. "

Emergency requests are processed faster, but have to come from law enforcement officials, Facebook said.

Following the example of Google and Microsoft, Facebook said it intended to publish regular transparency reports, detailing government requests for user information.


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