IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Government sought data on 117 Facebook users in Singapore

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 29, 2013

SINGAPORE is among dozens of countries worldwide that have asked for access to details of more than 38,000 Facebook users, the social media giant revealed for the first time yesterday.

The Government made 107 requests on 117 individuals in the first six months of this year, Facebook said in a report. The company complied with 70 per cent of them.

Out of the 71 countries listed by Facebook, the highest number of requests came from the US government, which demanded that the firm hand over data on 21,000 users.

Facebook complied with 79 per cent of those requests.

The British authorities asked to see data on 2,337 users, and the firm agreed in 68 per cent of the cases.

In Asia, the Indian authorities topped the list, making 3,245 requests on more than 4,100 accounts. Facebook agreed to half of them. Malaysia made seven requests involving 197 accounts but none was complied with.

The report did not specify the types of requests received from each government nor what type of information was handed over.

However, it said the "vast majority" of the information pertained to criminal cases such as robberies or kidnapping. Requests on national security matters also featured in the list.

"In many of these cases, these government requests seek basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service," the company wrote in a blog post.

"Other requests also seek IP address logs or actual account content."

The Straits Times understands that Facebook may reject a request if it determines it is not a matter of national security or illegal activity, or if there is no law in the country requiring it to oblige.

In Singapore, the State has not needed court authorisation to obtain data for decades.

For example, the broadly worded provision in the Criminal Procedure Code that allows the police to obtain anything deemed related to an investigation has been on the books since it was enacted in 1955.

Similarly, under the Telecommunications Act, the Government can order telcos to provide any document or information related to an investigation.

When asked about the nature of the Singapore Government's requests to Facebook, a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman would only say that most were related to crimes.

"As part of the evidence-gathering process provided for under the law, law enforcement agencies in Singapore may request information from persons or organisations that will help in their investigations into criminal cases," he said.

Facebook is not the only social media platform to have released such a report.

Both Twitter and Google have previously done so.

In its latest report, Twitter said it received fewer than 10 requests for user data from the Singapore Government between January and June this year. However, the company did not comply with any of them.

According to Google's Transparency Report, it received 185 requests for users' data from the Government last year, involving some 250 accounts. Google complied with 70 per cent to 75 per cent of the cases.

In comparison, the US made 16,407 requests, of which nearly 90 per cent were complied with.

derrickh@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 29, 2013

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