06/14/2013 11:54 pm ET

Facebook Shares Numbers On Government Data Requests In Response To PRISM Reports


Facebook shared some details Friday night about how frequently it receives government requests for information.

Between June and December 2012, US government entities filed 9,000 to 10,000 requests for Facebook-user data, the company said in a statement posted on its press website. In those requests, the government sought information on a total of between 18,000 and 19,000 user accounts. Facebook has more than 1.1 billion monthly active users, according to the statement.

The move to share this information comes in response to reports in the Guardian and Washington Post that Facebook, along with eight other major tech companies, has been providing the National Security Agency access to data on its servers through a program called "PRISM." (Disclosure: AOL, which owns The Huffington Post, is among those accused of participating in PRISM.)

The company wrote in its statement:

We’ve reiterated in recent days that we scrutinize every government data request that we receive – whether from state, local, federal, or foreign governments. We’ve also made clear that we aggressively protect our users’ data when confronted with such requests: we frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested. And we respond only as required by law.

But particularly in light of continued confusion and inaccurate reporting related to this issue, we’ve advocated for the ability to say even more.

Since this story was first reported, we’ve been in discussions with U.S. national security authorities urging them to allow more transparency and flexibility around national security-related orders we are required to comply with. We’re pleased that as a result of our discussions, we can now include in a transparency report all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters) – which until now no company has been permitted to do. As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range. This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a message from his personal Facebook account denying that the social network is part of a secret NSA data-sharing program.

"Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers," Zuckerberg wrote. "We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn't even heard of PRISM before yesterday."

On Tuesday, Google sent an open letter to Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller requesting permission to make public details about the extent to which it has shared user information with the NSA.

AOL does not have any knowledge of the Prism program. It does not disclose user information to government agencies without a court order, subpoena or formal legal process, nor do we provide any government agency with access to our servers.



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