There has been a sharp spike in “emergency” requests for user information from Indian government and law enforcement agencies to Facebook, according to the company’s latest transparency report.
The report, released on Wednesday, said there were 1,615 such requests in the first half of 2019, up from 861 in the second half of 2018. In all, there were 1,478 “emergency” requests last year, more than a three-fold jump from 460 in 2017.
Normally, data requests to a US-based company, as per the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), have to be routed through the US Department of Justice. But the “emergency” requests are sent directly to Facebook, through its “law enforcement online request system”.
“In emergencies, law (agencies) may submit requests without legal process. Based on the circumstances, we may voluntarily disclose information to law enforcement (agencies), where we have a good faith reason to believe that the matter involves imminent risk of serious physical injury or death,” says the Facebook report.
In 2016, not even 1 per cent of government requests to Facebook bypassed the usual procedure; now, about 7 per cent of the total requests for data take this “emergency” route.
This year, India has jumped from sixth to third place for the most requests for content takedowns (1,250 in the first half of 2019), after Pakistan and Mexico. The report shows that Facebook, in response to government requests, took down 1,211 posts, 19 pages or groups, and two profiles in the first half of 2019. The company also took down 17 Instagram accounts in the same period.
Content was taken down because of allegations of “hate speech, anti-religion content constituting incitement to violence, defamation, extremism, anti-government, and anti-state content,” says the report.
According to the report, India continues to top the list of Internet disruptions, with 40 shutdowns in the first half of 2019, lasting a cumulative eight weeks. Other than Jammu and Kashmir, there were Internet shutdowns in Tripura, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
The report also shows that the Election Commission requested 488 political advertisements to be “temporarily restricted” in the first half of 2019.
Overall, there has been a four-fold increase in government’s requests for data since 2015, including for IP addresses, account content, credit card information and subscriber information. There were 10,676 requests in 2015, 13,613 in 2016, 22,024 in 2017 and 37,385 in 2018. This year, there were already 22,684 requests in the first six months. The only country that has sent more requests for information is the US.
Since Facebook began tracking this information in 2013, it has maintained a roughly 50 per cent compliance rate with the Indian government’s requests for information.
The Facebook user base in India has more than doubled from 135.6 million in 2015 to 281 million in 2018, according to Statista.