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Facebook: Governments still clamoring for user data

During the second half of 2014, the total number of government data requests rose slightly to 35,051, with the US and India leading the way, Facebook reports.

Facebook has released its 2014 second half report on government requests on data. Facebook

Facebook continues to keep busy fielding requests by governments for user data, a new report from the world's largest social network shows.

During the second half of 2014, Facebook received 35,051 requests from international governments for user data, up slightly from 34,946 requests made to the company during the first half of the year, the social network revealed on Sunday in its Global Government Requests Report. It also saw a rise in requests for takedowns of content that allegedly violated local law.

"Overall, we continue to see an increase in government requests for data and content restrictions," the company noted in a blog post. "The amount of content restricted for violating local law increased by 11 percent over the previous half, to 9,707 pieces of content restricted, up from 8,774. We saw a rise in content restriction requests from countries like Turkey and Russia, and declines in places like Pakistan."

Facebook is one of dozens of companies that tracks government requests on its users and data. Many companies started offering reports about such requests after leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the US government, in particular, was actively targeting user data in connection with law enforcement action.

Last month, for instance, Twitter released its own government transparency report, revealing that requests on Twitter user information was up 40 percent in the second half of 2014. A total of 2,871 individual requests were received during the period.

Facebook tracks several data points, including the total number of request for user data on its service, the number of user accounts referenced in the data requests, and so-called content restrictions. Those restrictions could be for anything from images to news feed updates that in some way violate local law.

With more than 1.4 billion monthly active users worldwide, Facebook is a hot target for many governments around the world. The service has 890 million daily active users and 745 million mobile daily active users. Over 82 percent of its users are outside the US.

Overall, requests in Western countries, including the US and Germany, were down during the second half of 2014 compared to the prior period. India, meanwhile, placed more requests on Facebook's data, according to the company.

Still, Facebook's data suggests the US is still most actively targeting its users and data. During the second half of the year, the US had 14,274 data requests on 21,731 user accounts. India, the second-most-active government, posted 5,473 data requests on 7,281 user accounts. India also sent to Facebook 5,832 content restrictions.

Despite receiving those requests, Facebook is not always forced to comply. Indeed, the company provided "some data" in just 45 percent of India's requests. That number was 79 percent for US data requests.

"We respond to valid requests relating to criminal cases," Facebook says on its Government Requests page. "Each and every request we receive is checked for legal sufficiency and we reject or require greater specificity on requests that are overly broad or vague."

Facebook declined to comment beyond what was in its report.