Indian government second only to US on Facebook data requests in H1 2019

Indian government second only to US on Facebook data requests in H1 2019
Photo Credit: Reuters
14 Nov, 2019

Requests for Facebook data by the Indian government increased 36.81% during the first six months of 2019 over comparable period last year. Globally, overall government data requests grew 16% during the same period. The requests globally and in India have seen a steady rise since 2013 when Facebook started publishing its transparency report.

In its latest report, released on Wednesday, Facebook said it received a total of 128,617 requests from governments between January and June 2019. The highest number of requests came from the US government with 50,471 requests, followed by India at 22,684 requests. 

The report for the first time includes data for Instagram, though details on WhatsApp remained out of the report. WhatsApp has over 400 million monthly active users in India, which continues to be its largest market.

It may be noted that India’s government has asked Facebook to provide data on the recent breach on WhatsApp to furnish traceability of messages. An ongoing case in the Supreme Court also seeks to link Facebook and WhatsApp to Aadhaar.  

The country also witnessed the highest number of disruptions during the first six months of 2019 on the Facebook platform, excluding its related services WhatsApp and Instagram. India saw 40 incidents of disruption between January and June, for a duration of 8 weeks, 2 days and 22 hours. The duration was less than that of the Republic of Chad which was the highest at 25 weeks and 6 days.

The disruptions include restrictions on internet connectivity as well as restriction on accessing specific websites and apps. 

According to information shared as part of the report, government officials usually request data as part of official investigations into criminal cases, which includes basic subscriber information. Other requests include IP address logs and content of a user’s account on any of Facebook’s platforms. 

Among the 22,684 requests by the government, 1,615 were emergency requests, which were prioritised by the government while the rest were related to legal processes. Facebook responded to 54% of the legal process requests by the government with data and 55% of the emergency requests, while the other requests were rejected based on the community standards of the company. 

The company also restricted 1,300 pieces of content in India based on local laws during the first half of 2019, as compared to 1500 pieces of content during the first half of 2018. These included 1,211 posts on Facebook and 19 pages and groups, as well as 17 accounts on Instagram.

“We permanently restricted access to content in India in response to legal requests from law enforcement agencies, court orders, and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. Content restricted was alleged to violate Indian laws on the grounds listed under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and was primarily in the categories of hate speech, anti-religion content constituting incitement to violence, defamation, extremism, anti-government, and anti-state content. We also restricted access to 217 items in response to private reports related to defamation,” Facebook said in its report.

The platform also restricted access to 448 items flagged by the Election Commission of India which violated the Model Code of Conduct.

Specific queries sent to Facebook did not elicit a response till the time of publishing this report. The article will be updated with comments from the company.