Singapore Government requested details of 263 Facebook users: Report

The authorities made a total of 204 requests between January and June from Facebook.

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Government requested information on 263 Facebook accounts in the first half of 2017, with the social media giant complying with 59 per cent of the requests.

The authorities made a total of 204 requests between January and June from Facebook, the social media company revealed in its Transparency Report released on Monday (Dec 18).

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

According to Facebook, the "vast majority" of data requested by government officials related to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings. The requests for data on people who use Facebook 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 own 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 the 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 basis for their request. "We push back when we find legal deficiencies or overly broad or vague demands for information," a post on its government request website says.

The Singapore authorities also made eight account preservation requests for 15 user accounts. This was done so as to preserve account records in connection with official criminal investigations for 90 days.

Globally, governments made more than 78,000 requests to Facebook over the first six months of 2017, asking for data on more than 116,000 user accounts.

The United States topped the global list for government requests, with a total of 32,716 requests on 52,280 user accounts. That was more than three times the total requests made by the second country on the list, India, with 9,853 requests on 13,752 user accounts.

Singapore ranks 26th on the list of 129 countries listed on Facebook's report.

Facebook complied with 85 per cent of the United States government's requests. The compliance rate varies, with Facebook acceding to 63 per cent of requests for Taiwan, 51 per cent for South Korea and 33 per cent for 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" such as child exploitation cases, emergencies or when notice would be counterproductive.

Facebook first released such data in 2013 in what it called its "Government Requests Report".

Since then, the company has seen more requests for data from governments worldwide. Facebook deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby said there was a 21 per cent increase in account data request over the first six months of 2017 compared with the second half of 2016.

The report was renamed the Transparency Report in 2017. This new report also also includes reports related to intellectual property (IP), such as copyright, trademark, and counterfeiting.

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