Facebook user data: Requests from Pakistan at an all time high

Social media site did not block any piece of content in Pakistan though


Gibran Ashraf/reuters November 17, 2015
PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: The government’s attempt to access data of specific accounts on social media giant Facebook have reached an all-time high, registering a 52.38% increase from last year. However, the popular social media site seems to have stopped blocking posts in the country.

In its latest country-by-country bi-annual transparency report released last week, Facebook said that between January and June 2015, it had received 192 requests from Pakistan for access to 275 users and their accounts across the social media platforms under its control, including the popular social network, Facebook’s messaging app Messenger, photo sharing app Instagram and instant messenger WhatsApp. Facebook, which says it responds to valid requests relating to criminal cases, had provided Islamabad data in just 58.33% of the requests made.

This is up from the previous high of 126 requests for data of 163 accounts between July-December 2013 when Facebook handed over data in 47.62% of cases. During the same period in 2014, the government had made just 100 requests for 152 accounts of which Facebook complied with 42% of the requests made. In contrast, between January-June 2014, the government had made 116 requests for access to data of 160 accounts, with Facebook providing data in 35.34% of cases.

In the first six months of 2015, Facebook said it had not blocked any piece of content in Pakistan. This is down from the same period last year when Facebook had blocked 1,773 items in the country on account of blasphemy or criticism of the state. This figure had fallen to 54 between July-December 2014.

Digital rights group Digital Rights Foundation in a statement on Sunday said that this increase was ominous.  “Going by the increase in current and past government request data, it is more than likely that the number of requests by governments will increase over time.”

It urged Facebook and its fellow tech companies to do more to prove that the safety, welfare and rights of their users matter to them.

Worldwide increase in data requests

Pakistan’s uptick in data requests though follows a global trend where Facebook says government requests for account data increased across all countries by 18 per cent over the second half of 2014, from 35,051 requests to 41,214.

“Overall, we continue to see an increase in content restrictions and government requests for data globally,” said Facebook’s Deputy General Consul Chris Sonderby in a blog post accompanying the report. “The amount of content restricted for violating local law increased by 112% over the second half of 2014, to 20,568 pieces of content, up from 9,707.” The bulk of government requests came from US law enforcement agencies.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2015.

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