It’s completely legal and proper for a government, in countries such as the UK or US, to request information from Facebook in order to make a difference in the fight against organised crime, illegal information sharing or terrorism – admittedly it can and will help in these areas.
However, Facebook have seen the amount of data requests from Governments rise by an alarming 24% in the last 6 months. For every 4 requests made previously, there are now roughly 5 being made to the site for personal information such as chat logs, totaling a massive 35,000 between January and June.
The new trend is alarming – of those 35,000 requests it’s not known whether any kind of action is being taken based on the information handed over, or whether the information is stored on government servers, or even what it’s being used for.
Around 80% of the time, Facebook had no choice but to hand over the requested data. The company tries to resist as much as they can but out of those 35,000 requests, near on 28,000 of those involved data being handed over. After that, nobody knows what’s done with it.
Facebook’s deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby spoke of the company’s staunch resistance to the requests, highlighting the company’s desperate struggle to protect users.
“We scrutinize every government request we receive for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and push back hard when we find deficiencies or are served with overly broad requests,” he said.
There’s a few simple truths behind this global scandal – the seedy underbelly of society is waking up to the internet, or more accurately, they already know the potential of the online world for making wrongdoing easier. It is up to the governments of the world to protect their people, but also to balance the scale there must be moderation in the actions they take.
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There is a difference between staying vigilant for imminent threats and becoming paranoid and looking over one’s shoulder at every turn, perceiving threats that are not there. Whilst it’s not up to Facebook to be the judge of whether the increase in government snooping is simple vigilance or runaway paranoia, the company has a duty to protect both its users and its image.
As more and more transparency reports detail increased snooping, that image may become harder to maintain, and the potential paranoia of governments could ultimately spread to the users, who may abandon the site over fears ‘big brother is watching’.
The situation is probably to get worse before it gets better. We the people must hold out and wait for the big companies to get a legal foothold in the case. Already the courts in the US, the epicenter of the snooping scandal, are up to their necks in lawsuits as more and more big tech companies sue for increased transparency.