Maltese government retains top spot for most Facebook user data requests
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.”