A day after the head of a U.K. spy agency penned an open letter asking tech companies to share more, Facebook is reporting that there was a 24 percent rise in global law enforcement agency requests for data.
The drastic uptick in requests comes just months after Facebook was compelled to give a New York court information on almost 400 individuals accused of fraud. After losing its appeals, Facebook was forced to hand over user information such as images and private messages.
All told, there were 34,946 requests for data sent to Facebook in the first half of 2014, according to Chris Sonderby, Facebook's deputy general counsel. Roughly half of those requests came from the U.S.
Sonderby says Facebook scrutinizes each request and challenges petitions for information if a request is overly broad.
After agreeing to comply with the warrant issued by the New York court, Facebook's gag order was lifted in June and the company began to notify the 381 individuals implicated in that particular case. The social networking site was nearly found criminally contempt as it fought what Sonderby says was the largest request for information it had ever received from a singular entity.
"This unprecedented request was by far the largest we've ever received," says Sonderby. "We've argued that these overly broad warrants violate the privacy rights of the people on Facebook and ignore constitutional safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures."
Of the 381 individuals whose private information was given to prosecutors, only 62 were charged with fraud.
"This means that no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data was sought by the government without prior notice to the people affected," said Sonderby after the gag order was lifted.
The 300 individuals who had images and intimate info exposed to strangers may have a hard time agreeing with Robert Hannigan, director of Britain's Government Communications Headquarters. In an open letter published in the Financial Times, Hannigan asserts it's all but impossible for social networking sites to remain neutral when both good and bad people use the services.
The Internet has become a "command-and-control" center for extremists and social networking sites need to cooperate with government requests for data, according to Hannigan. Technology companies seem to be in denial about the misuse of the Internet, Hannigan writes.