Governments of 74 countries have sought information on more than 38,000 Facebook users in the first half of 2013, the social networking site has said.
The leading social network has complied with most requests, the firm said on Tuesday in its first report on the scale of data inquiries it gets from countries around the world.
The report follows allegations by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden that practically every major Internet company – including Facebook, Google Inc and Microsoft Corp – routinely hands over troves of data on potentially millions of users to national intelligence agencies.
Facebook, which disclosed the figures in its first “Global Government Requests Report,” said it individually scrutinised every information request and required governments to meet a “very high legal bar” to receive user data.
Facebook has more than 1 billion users worldwide.
US law enforcement authorities were by far the most active in mining Facebook, seeking information on about 20,000 to 21,000 users between January and June.
Authorities in other countries with large Facebook user bases, including India, the United Kingdom and Germany, also requested information on thousands of users.
Although the full scope of the National Security Agency’s electronic data collection programmes remains unclear, Facebook has vigorously contested claims that it allows the US government unfettered access to secretly gather information on a significant fraction of its users.
Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said in the report that the firm hoped to contribute to the “ongoing debate about the proper standards for government requests for user information in official investigations”.
“We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests,” Stretch said. “When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name.”
Facebook said it would begin to publish information on data requests on a regular basis.
Google and Twitter, among other companies, have periodically released similar information for several years.
Facebook’s report included secret information requests within the US authorised under the the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act. US companies are ordinarily prohibited from acknowledging the existence of data requests made under those statutes.
Facebook negotiated with the US government in June to begin publishing the total number of data requests it receives without specifying how many are related to law enforcement investigations as opposed to intelligence-gathering efforts.