S'pore govt made 1,260 Facebook data requests in second half of 2020

The Government made 1,260 requests to Facebook for information covering 1,630 accounts from July to December last year. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The Government made 1,260 requests to Facebook for information covering 1,630 accounts from July to December 2020, nearly triple the number over the same period in 2019 and exceeding the total from all other Asean nations.

Facebook said it complied with 83 per cent of these requests, producing at least "some data" in response, according to a transparency report by the social media giant released on Thursday (May 20). This is the highest compliance rate for Facebook over requests from the Singapore government.

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 second half of 2019, the Singapore authorities made 560 requests. This went up to 759 in the first half of 2020.

In response to queries, a spokesman for the Ministry of Communications and Information told The Straits Times that the increase in the number of requests over the past year was due to the significant rise in cyber crime, including scams and extortion.

"For example, social media impersonation scams, most of which occurred on Facebook and Instagram, have almost quadrupled year-on-year from 786 cases in 2019 to 3,010 cases in 2020," said the spokesman.

The transparency report categorised the requests into legal and emergency requests.

Legal requests are accompanied by processes like a search warrant, and account records are disclosed according to Facebook's terms of service and the applicable law, the social media giant 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".

All but six of the 1,260 requests made by the Government in the second half of 2020 were legal ones.

The report also contained figures for data requests from other countries. The total number for the other nine Asean countries in the second half of 2020 was 243.

Singapore authorities also made 288 account preservation requests for 357 user accounts. This was done to preserve account records for 90 days in connection with official criminal investigations to ensure they were not deleted or removed from the social media giant's networks.

In the report, Facebook said the "vast majority" of such government data 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," Facebook added, noting that it had strict guidelines to deal with such requests.

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

Commenting on the Singapore figures in the report, Harry Elias Partnership head of cyber security, privacy and data protection K. K. Lim said the number of such requests by the Government was unlikely to decrease.

"It is unlikely to abate as we have a serious worldwide pandemic plus conflicts outside of Singapore that may affect the social fabric of Singapore. In light of these potential threats, it is surmised that the Government may continue to make such requests in the foreseeable future," added Mr Lim.

Globally, 191,013 requests were made, with the United States responsible for the bulk of them with more than 61,000, followed by India with more than 40,000.

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