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Last year, the UK government asked to open over 9,000 Facebook accounts

Facebook’s latest Government Requests Report reveals the extent to which UK authorities requested access to accounts on the world’s biggest social network in 2015. 

The most recent report, which breaks down the number of requests made by governments worldwide, covers activity from July to December 2015 and shows a 23.8 per cent increase in requests since the six months previous. 

The UK government made 4,190 requests for user data (covering 5,478 accounts) in the latter half of 2015 and Facebook complied with 3,442 (82.15 per cent) of these requests. In the six months previous to that, the authorities made 3,384 requests, comprising a total of 4,489 accounts; Facebook acquiesced in 2,640 (78.4 per cent) of cases. 

Once again, the United States topped the league table for biggest number of gub’mint requests, which is perhaps not surprising, given how many American citizens use Facebook compared to everyone else. Generally, there is a correlation between the number of requests made a government and the native popularity of Facebook. 

Facebook has been producing its biannual Government Requests Reports since 2013, in a bid to be more transparent with its users. Facebook says that in the great majority of instances, access requests are made in relation to criminal cases, mostly kidnappings and robberies. 

Facebook’s support page says: “In many of these cases, the government is requesting basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service. Requests may also ask for IP address logs or account content.”

While this means governments can get Facebook to prise open your account, the social network says that every request is thoroughly checked. Officials are required to submit “detailed description of the legal and factual basis” for each request, meaning Facebook won’t just roll over and give up the goods when the Home Secretary says so. 

Under DRIPA (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014), UK security services can legally intercept communications data – in other words, monitor who spoke to who when and how – but not the content of private messages. 

Earlier this month, the Court of Justice for the European Union began investigating whether or not DRIPA has broken articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees everyone the right to privacy and the protection of their personal data. 

DRIPA was itself rushed through after the European Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the previous RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000), which afforded security services blanket data retention powers, was unlawful. 

DRIPA has a built in sunset clause, which means its powers will expire after December 2016 unless another Bill is passed which supersedes it. The proposed Investigatory Powers Bill 2015-16 is currently on its way through the House of Commons; the next committee reading is due to take place on May 3.

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