Facebook Reports Suggest Growing Insecurity of Indian Government


The social media giant revealed statistics on Wednesday which outline the number of times government’s from around the world requested the company for user data for use in legal matters and the number of times an item was restricted from their service due to country laws.

Syncing Facebook photos to your contacts isn't always as seamless as it should be. | Photo: 10 FACE / Shutterstock.com
10 FACE / Shutterstock.com

The company has outlined that the total number of government request from across the globe have increased from 46,710 in the second half of 2015 to 59,229 in the first half of 2016 – a rise of 27%.

Approximately 56% of these requests came with a non-disclosure order that prohibited Facebook from notifying the concerned user.

As far as content restriction due to local laws goes, the requests significantly decreased from 55,827 in the second half of 2015 to 9,663 in the first half of 2016 — an 83% drop.

“We apply a rigorous approach to every government request we receive to protect the information of the people who use our services. We scrutinise each request for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request and challenge those that are deficient or overly broad. We do not provide governments with ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s information,” says Chris Sonderby, Deputy General Counsel, Facebook.

The company also receives preservation requests from government agencies in which they freeze data of an account for a maximum of 90 days pending receipt of legal process. Facebook received 38,675 such requests for 67,129 accounts.

The company also points out that it receives emergency requests which are kind of a fast-track way to access user data, is also being used by the world governments. Facebook received 3016 requests for 4192 accounts.

“Facebook may disclose information where we believe that the matter involves an imminent risk of serious injury or death. In all of these cases, we require law enforcement to describe the emergency and explain how the requested disclosure might prevent harm,” continued Sonderby.

Indian Government Exploits User Data too

While user data requests have been quite stable during the past few years with the government requesting user data details in a region North of 10,000 every year but the content restriction has been a different ball game altogether.

Gil C / Shutterstock

Relatively, our government hasn’t been asking even half of the user data in a year that United States government requests in half of that time and Facebook even acknowledges the request 45-50% on an average coming from the Indian government, as against 80% for the US government.

There has been massive use of content restriction tool by Facebook for government in the Indian territories since July 2013. The content was restricted under local laws on grounds that anti-religious content and hate speech can cause unrest and disharmony within India.

In the second half of 2013, 4765 content restriction requests were accepted, another 10,792 in the entire 2014, which further increased to 15,155 and 14,971 in the first and second half of 2015, respectively.

That’s a massive jump in restriction requests — so either the government went bonkers restricting any content they didn’t find suitable or the crowd was spitting venom through their content — whichever way, a major curb of the freedom of speech can be witnessed in such a scenario.

Is the government scared of the voice of dissent?

The company would previously heed to content restriction requests from various government as well as non-government agencies in India but a recent decision by Supreme Court of India helped the company change their stance.

Facebook states, “In 2016, informed by the decision of the Supreme Court of India last year amending the proper interpretation of the Information Technology Act of 2000, we ceased acting upon legal requests to remove access to content unless received by way of a binding court order and/or a notification by an authorised agency which conforms to the constitutional safeguards as directed by the Supreme Court.”

In the first half of 2016, only 2034 content restriction requests were accepted by the company as opposed to a massive 14,971 requests in the second half of 2015.

The company points out that currently content is restricted on requests from law enforcement agencies such as the India Computer Emergency Response Team which works with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

If not for the Supreme Court’s intervention, the chances of content restriction growing to a greater number than the previous years were quite high.

Content restriction and requesting for user data without even letting the concerned party know that they are being surveilled upon isn’t at all a responsible stance by the government — especially the former, after all not everyone can be a threat.

“We’ll also keep working with partners in industry and civil society to push governments around the world to reform surveillance in a way that protects their citizens’ safety and security while respecting their rights and freedoms,” adds Sonderby.

Facebook has tried to come clean about their part in government surveillance via social media from across the globe, but still whatever they say must be taken with a pinch of salt since they aren’t entirely sure yet if they’re a tech company or a media company — or a bit of both, or maybe an evolved image of the faded MySpace/Friendster/Hi5, doomed to fade itself in the distant future.

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Bike enthusiast, traveller, ManUtd follower, army brat, word-smith; Delhi University, Asian College of Journalism, Cardiff University alumnus; a journalist breathing tech these days.