S'pore Govt doubled Facebook data requests to 759 in first half of 2020

Facebook said the "vast majority" of government requests related to criminal cases such as robberies or kidnappings. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The Government made 759 requests to Facebook for information covering 1,039 accounts from January to June last year, more than double the number over the same period in 2019 and exceeding the total from all other Asean nations.

Facebook said it complied with 72 per cent of these requests, producing at least "some data" in response, according to a transparency report by the social media giant seen by The Straits Times.

The twice-yearly report details government requests for account data and Facebook's rate of compliance, community standards enforcement, content restrictions and Internet disruptions.

In the first half of 2019, the number of requests by the authorities here was 315, and in the second half, it was 560.

The report categorises them into legal and emergency requests.

Legal requests are accompanied by legal processes like a search warrant, and account records are disclosed according to Facebook's terms of service and the applicable law, it said on its website on guidelines for law enforcement.

Emergency requests include matters "involving imminent harm to a child or risk of death or serious physical injury to any person and requiring disclosure of information without delay".

Of the 759 requests made by the Government in the first half of 2020, all but five were legal ones.

The report, published in November, also revealed figures for the data requests from other countries as well, and it showed that the total number of requests of the other nine Asean nations was 296.

The authorities here also made 72 account preservation requests for 117 user accounts.

This was done to preserve account records in connection with official criminal investigations for 90 days to ensure that they were not deleted or removed from the social media giant's networks.

In the report, Facebook said the "vast majority" of government requests related to criminal cases such as robberies or kidnappings.

"In many of these cases, these government requests seek basic subscriber information, such as name, registration date and length of service. Other requests may also seek IP address logs or account content," it said, adding that it has strict guidelines in place to deal with such data requests.

These requests also cover other apps owned by Facebook, such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

ST understands that different law enforcement agencies here, including the police, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, the Central Narcotics Bureau, the National Environment Agency and the Ministry of Manpower, can request information from Facebook.

Mr Bryan Tan, a lawyer from Pinsent Masons MPillay specialising in technology law and data protection, said the spike in requests is likely due to more people and activities here going online, leading to more investigations on digital platforms.

"Other reasons include how Covid-related misinformation online can have devastating consequences, and how the threat of self-radicalisation is now greater and wider. The Government would want to take action on these and request for more information to stop these," he added.

Globally, 173,592 requests were made, with the United States making up the bulk with more than 61,000 requests, followed by India with more than 35,000.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.