Facebook says that officials requested access to 7,199 profiles between January and June of 2016 – a 30 percent increase on last year.
The social media giant says it was asked to provide data from 6,039 accounts related to criminal proceedings, and another 1,160 were requested under an emergency clause that mandates the release of data in cases when there is an “imminent risk of serious injury or death.”
Facebook admitted that it handed over data in 87 percent of cases, but says it turned down hundreds of requests from UK officials for being “overly broad or vague.”
User data can be used by police and intelligence services to track a suspect’s whereabouts, activities, and connections. In some cases, the account holders may never be made aware that they were under investigation or that their online profile had been accessed.
Facebook also offers a “preservation service,” whereby it can keep every detail of a profile on its servers for three months to aid a criminal investigation.
The government made 457 requests for this service in the first six months of 2016.
In fact, Britain made more requests than any other country, after the US and India, and the UK’s requests were granted more often than those from most other nations.
Facebook’s deputy general counsel, Chris Sonderby, says the social media network has received an unprecedented number of requests this year.
“We apply a rigorous approach to every government request we receive to protect the information of the people who use our services.
“We scrutinize each request for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request, and challenge those that are deficient or overly broad.
“We do not provide governments with ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s information,” he said.
Privacy campaigners have expressed concern over the quantity of data stored by IT companies and the scope of snooping.
The UK’s controversial Investigatory Powers Act, dubbed the ‘snooper’s charter’, that was passed into law in November allows for sweeping collection and storage of people’s emails, text messages, and internet data.
The government argues that the incoming law provides intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the powers they need to fight terrorism and investigate crime.