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Facebook government transparency report shows US most hungry for user data

Facebook has released its first official government transparency report, revealing that US government officials have made up to 12,000 requests for user data in the first six months of 2013, far higher than any other country on the social network's list.

Going forward, Facebook pledged to release regular transparency reports, much like Google, Twitter, and Microsoft.

The report catalogues: which countries have requested user data from Facebook; the number of requests from each country; the number of users/accounts those requests covered; and the percentage of requests that Facebook granted.

US data is presented in ranges because Facebook combined all requests - including national security-related demands - into one number. Back in June, the government gave Facebook permission to disclose the number of national security-related requests it receives, but required that the data be lumped in with other information requests.

Facebook - as well as firms like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo - has repeatedly requested that it be allowed to break out national security-focused requests, but to no avail.

As a result, Facebook's report says it received between 11,000 and 12,000 requests for data from the US government between 1 January and 30 June 2013. Those requests covered between 20,000 and 21,000 users or accounts, and Facebook honoured 79 per cent of them.

The next largest request for data came from India, which made 3,245 requests covering 4,144 accounts - 50 per cent of which were honoured. The UK, Germany, Italy, and France followed, but none made more than 2,400 requests.

Facebook reiterated that it has "stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests."

"We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and require a detailed description of the legal and factual bases for each request," said Colin Stretch, Facebook's general counsel. "We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests. When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name."

Facebook said the "vast majority" of information requests relate to criminal cases, like robberies or kidnappings. Many cases seek data like name and length of service, IP address logs, or actual account content. More information is available on Facebook's law enforcement guidelines page.