Facebook Report: Breaking down the countries who request data on site's users

On Tuesday, Facebook finally released its first report detailing the size and scope of data requests the company fields from governments around the world. The report listed every request the company received from every government between January and June 30 of 2013.

"Transparency and trust are core values at Facebook," Colin Stretch, Facebook general counsel, said in a blog post. "We strive to embody them in all aspects of our services, including our approach to responding to government data requests. We want to make sure that the people who use our service understand the nature and extent of the requests we receive and the strict policies and processes we have in place to handle them."

The report comes days after news surfaced that the National Security Administration paid tech companies millions of dollars to cover the cost of handing over emails and other electronic communications as part of its PRISM electronic surveillance program, Facebook included. Yikes.

Although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially denied knowledge of PRISM, the company later admitted to complying with individual court orders for access to its user data.

Facebook is not allowed to make public how many requests it receives from a particular agency or on a particular subject, but a number of the requests pertain to national security and public safety.

"These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat," Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general counsel, said in June.

Facebook is currently seeking authorization to become increasingly transparent about how it decides to release user information.

"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," Ullyot said.

Here's what we learned from the report.

  1. A lot of countries are requesting Facebook data. The report detailed requests from 74 countries for data on 38,000 users.
  2. No surprise here: The U.S. has sought by far the most user information from the social networking site. The U.S. government made 11,000 to 12,000 request for access to more than 20,000 accounts. Facebook said it supplied data in about 79 percent of those cases. (This stat also makes more sense when you consider the United States has by far the most Facebook users of any country in the world.)
  3. Britain has made the second-most number of requests. The country has made 1,975 requests from 2,337 user accounts. Facebook said it supplied data for roughly 68 percent of those requests.
  4. According to Facebook, the report includes requests made for security purposes and criminal cases. In these cases, the company might be asked to supply information that, per the Washington Post's example, could help authorities in robbery or kidnapping cases. In requests like these, officials frequently seek information on users' names and length of usage and sometimes users' IP addresses or "actual account content."
  5. Facebook said it plans to start releasing data reports like this one regularly. Somewhere in Russia, Edward Snowden is smiling.