Should the Government Have Access to Social Media Data?

facebook spySocial media networks can often provide valuable information to the government about user data and activity. For the first time, Facebook has released a transparency report on the requests that they receive.

While other networks such as Twitter have been producing such reports for some time, Facebook has only recently begun this commitment to transparency. These reports provide interesting insights and raise the question – should the government be able to access this data from social media sites?

Where the Requests Are Coming From

In total, Facebook received 25,607 requests from governments around the world during the first half of 2013, while Twitter received 1,113 requests. Between 43-45% of requests for data on Facebook and 78% for Twitter came from the United States. While Facebook is unable to state the exact number of requests it receives from the U.S., the number was between 11,000-12,000.

Aside from the U.S., other countries requesting data from Facebook include India at 12.43%, the UK at 7.57%, Germany at 7.22%, Italy at 6.53%, and France at 5.93%. On Twitter, 7.49% of requests came from Japan, 2.24% from the UK, 1.89% from both Brazil and Italy, and 1.55% from France.

What Kind of Information is Requested?

Facebook has stated that most requests for information pertain to criminal cases, including kidnapping and robberies. If the company complies with the request, they may release a user’s name, the length of time he or she has been on Facebook, content such as messages or posts, IP address logs, and other activity records on the site. However, when requests are made, the company is not obligated to comply. For U.S requests, Facebook complied in 79% of cases, while Twitter released information in 69% of cases and Google did the same in 88% of cases.

How Facebook Has Responded

While Facebook has shied away from releasing transparency reports in the past, it is likely that they are working to be more transparent in response to recent negative publicity about their connection to the NSA and the questionable U.S. government program called PRISM. In discussing the report, Facebook has stated that they believe strongly in the importance of transparency. Furthermore, the company asserts that they only release information after a careful review process, and that they provide as little data as possible when they do comply.

Do you think the government has a right to user data from Facebook and Twitter?

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Elizabeth K

Elizabeth Kent is a recent graduate with an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Brandeis University. She earned her B.A. from Smith College with a major in the Study of Women and Gender and a minor in Jewish Studies. Elizabeth recently relocated from the Boston area back to Western Massachusetts, where she spends her free time volunteering with a local non-profit organization. Elizabeth has worked as a writing tutor, archival intern, research assistant, and retail associate. Her interests include studying pop culture, kittens, and making meals with as little cooking as possible.

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