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Facebook says government data requests are at their highest level ever

Facebook today released its biannual report on government data requests, indicating that total law enforcement requests are at their highest level ever at 41,214 for the first half of 2015. That's an 18 percent jump over the back half of last year, according to the social network's publicly available database that began tracking requests two years ago. The company also said it saw a 112 percent rise in content it hides due to violations of local laws. Roughly 75 percent of that restricted content is coming from users in India, where the company's Computer Emergency Response Team is said to censor social media posts critical of religion or the state.

The US is still far and away the global leader in data requests, with 17,577 total requests affecting 26,579 users. In 80 percent of those cases, Facebook handed over some type of data. That rate fluctuates by roughly 10 percentage points depending on the type of data request. Search warrants remain the leading request type with 9,737 related requests made by US law enforcement, followed by subpoenas at 5,375 requests.

US search warrants make up the majority of data requests

Facebook does not break out request types for other countries, but India, France, and Germany trail the US in total number of data requests at 5,115; 2,520; and 2,344; respectively. Facebook can decline to provide certain types of data if it's not legally mandated to do so, and less than half of all requests made by India, France, and Germany resulted in Facebook handing over any type of data to law enforcement.

Facebook also reiterated in the report that it doesn't let law enforcement peer onto its network directly, a hot-button topic ever since the PRISM scandal first broke in 2013 thanks to leaker Edward Snowden. "As we have emphasized before, Facebook does not provide any government with 'back doors' or direct access to people’s data," wrote Chris Sonderby, Facebook's deputy general counsel, in a blog post. "We scrutinize each request we receive for legal sufficiency, whether from an authority in the US, Europe, or elsewhere. If a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back hard and will fight in court, if necessary."

Facebook isn't the only company that discloses this type of information. Twitter, Google, and Amazon, as well as large telecoms and ISPs like Verizon and Comcast, all disclose government data requests. We've seen Twitter's 2015 report, but Google has yet to disclose information regarding the first half of the year.