Mal­tese gov­ern­ment re­tains top spot for most Face­book user data re­quests

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - He­lena Grech

The Mal­tese gov­ern­ment has kept its place at the top of the list of the most Face­book user data re­quests in the world, a re­port by the so­cial me­dia gi­ant for the sec­ond half of 2015 shows.

When work­ing out the re­quests on a per capita ba­sis, the Mal­tese gov­ern­ment’s thirst for in­for­ma­tion on Face­book users by far sur­passes the likes of the United States or France – two coun­tries with much higher se­cu­rity threats.

When tak­ing a look at the raw data, the Mal­tese gov­ern­ment made 151 re­quests per­tain­ing to 168 user ac­counts, in the sec­ond half of 2015. This amounts to 3.5 re­quests per 10,000 peo­ple, as op­posed to the United States’ 0.6 per 10,000 peo­ple, the UK’s 0.7 or France’s 0.4.

In ab­so­lute terms, the above coun­tries had, by far, more re­quests than Malta. How­ever, when tak­ing into ac­count the three coun­tries’ pop­u­la­tions, and com­pare them with Malta’s pop­u­la­tion of 429,333 – cou­pled with Malta’s rel­a­tively low threat lev­els – the ques­tion re­mains: why is the gov­ern­ment mak­ing so many Face­book user data re­quests?

In terms of Face­book user re­quests per capita, Malta tops the list, fol­lowed by Liecht­en­stein (due to its tiny pop­u­la­tion of 37,624). The re­main­ing 89 coun­tries in­cluded in the re­port that or­dered Face­book user re­quests all had rates that were dou­bled by that of the Mal­tese gov­ern­ment.

Face­book re­ports that, over­all, there has been a con­tin­ued global in­crease in gov­ern­ment re­quests for user data and con­tent re­stric­tions pur­suant to lo­cal law.

“Gov­ern­ment re­quests for ac­count data in­creased by 13 per cent from 41,214 re­quests to 46,763,” Face­book said in this most re­cent re­port, which cov­ers the sec­ond half of 2015.

Com­pared with 2014, Mal­tese gov­ern­ment re­quests for user data spiked by 61 per cent in 2015. Malta’s low level of crime both in ab­so­lute terms and rel­a­tive to the pop­u­la­tion, and the vir­tual in­abil­ity of peo­ple drop­ping be­low the po­lice radar in Malta given its small size, con­tin­ues to raise ques­tions as to why the cit­i­zens’ so­cial me­dia us­age is of such great in­ter­est to the gov­ern­ment.

Ques­tions over what the author­i­ties are do­ing with such data, how many ar­rests have been made with the as­sis­tance of Face­book user data and the kind of crimes the author­i­ties are us­ing Face­book to in­ves­ti­gate are among the most ob­vi­ous.

Face­book ap­proves 72.2 per cent of Malta’s re­quests

Face­book also re­ported that it ap­proved 72.2 per cent of the Mal­tese gov­ern­ment’s re­quests, up by 1.1 per cent when com­pared with the first half of 2015. Hav­ing just 28.8 per cent of re­quests re­jected, and tak­ing into ac­count the high num­ber of re­quests per capita, places Malta among the top tiers of gov­ern­ments whose re­quests have been ac­cepted.

In its re­port, Face­book ex­plains: “We have strict pro­cesses in place to han­dle th­ese gov­ern­ment re­quests. Every re­quest we re­ceive is checked for le­gal suf­fi­ciency. We re­quire of­fi­cials to pro­vide a de­tailed de­scrip­tion of the le­gal and fac­tual ba­sis for their re­quest, and we push back when we find le­gal de­fi­cien­cies or overly broad or vague de­mands for in­for­ma­tion. We fre­quently share only ba­sic sub­scriber in­for­ma­tion.”

Such a high ap­proval rat­ing for Face­book user data re­quests leads one to be­lieve that the gov­ern­ment’s re­quests are mostly le­git­i­mate. Many fac­tors may in­flu­ence the fre­quency of gov­ern­ment data re­quests. One rea­son for Malta’s world-lead­ing num­ber of user data re­quests may be the coun­try’s ram­pant use of the so­cial me­dia site, which is also among the world’s largest. It could also be rel­a­tive to Malta’s more lim­ited sur­veil­lance and data track­ing re­sources when com­pared with larger coun­tries such as the US or the UK.

Gov­ern­ment re­quests Twit­ter user data for the first time

For the first time ever, the Mal­tese gov­ern­ment re­quested Twit­ter user data on just three ac­counts be­tween July 2015 and June 2016. Two were re­quested in the first half of 2016, and the other re­quested in the last half of 2015.

Twit­ter us­age by res­i­dents of Malta is on the low side, with the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity pre­fer­ring to so­cial net­work via Face­book. It could there­fore be ar­gued that even the small num­ber of Twit­ter user data re­quested by the gov­ern­ment is rather puz­zling.

In­ter­est­ingly, the gov­ern­ment was com­pletely un­suc­cess­ful in gain­ing in­for­ma­tion of the three ac­counts re­quested – with the re­port show­ing “per­cent­age where some in­for­ma­tion pro­duced: 0 per cent.”

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