S'pore Govt sought details of 263 Facebook users: Report

Facebook said the vast majority of data government officials wanted were related to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings.
Facebook said the vast majority of data government officials wanted were related to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings. PHOTO: AFP

Social media giant agreed to 59% of requests, mostly linked to criminal cases under probe

The Singapore Government asked Facebook for information on 263 accounts in the first half of this year, and the social media giant agreed to 59 per cent of the requests.

In all, 204 requests - some seeking information on more than one account - were made between January and June, Facebook said in its Transparency Report released on Monday.

The twice-yearly report details government requests for account data, content restrictions and Internet disruptions.

Facebook said the vast majority of data government officials wanted were related to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings. The requests were part of official investigations.

"In many of these cases, the government is requesting basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service," Facebook said in a blog post explaining the report.

The requests extended to other services owned by Facebook, including Facebook's Messenger app, instant messaging app WhatsApp and photo-sharing app Instagram.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University said it is within the Government's power to ask Facebook for information that it believes is relevant for criminal investigations under the Criminal Procedure Code.

As for "non-criminal type requests", they could relate to "matters such as national security, intellectual property rights infringement (which could be criminal and non-criminal), or terrorism activity", he added.

Facebook checks each request for legal sufficiency and requires officials to provide a detailed description of the legal and factual bases for their request.

"We push back when we find legal deficiencies or overly broad or vague demands for information," it said in a post on its government request website.

The Singapore Government also made eight requests to preserve 15 user accounts. This essentially centres on preserving them in connection with official criminal investigations for 90 days.

Globally, governments made more than 78,000 requests in the first half of this year on more than 116,000 user accounts.

This is a 21 per cent increase compared with the second half of last year.

The United States tops the list for government requests, with 32,716 requests on 52,280 user accounts. This is more than three times the total requests made by the second country on the list, India, with 9,853 requests on 13,752 accounts.

Singapore ranks 26th on the list of 129 places.

Facebook complied with 85 per cent of the US government's requests. The compliance rate varies, with Facebook acceding to 63 per cent of requests from Taiwan, 51 per cent from South Korea and 33 per cent from Japan, whose government made only six requests.

Facebook's policy is to notify users when such requests for their data are made, unless legally prohibited or in "exceptional circumstances" like child exploitation cases, emergencies or when notice would be counterproductive.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore Govt sought details of 263 Facebook users: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe