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Facebook says countries sought data on 38,000 users in first half of 2013

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass held by a woman in Bern May 19, 2012. RE
In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass held by a woman in Bern May 19, 2012. RE

By Gerry Shih

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Governments sought information on over 38,000 Facebook users in the first half of 2013 and the No.1 social network complied with most requests, the firm said in its first report on the scale of data inquiries it gets from countries around the world.

The report follows allegations by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden that practically every major Internet company - including Facebook, Google Inc and Microsoft Corp - routinely hands over troves of data on potentially millions of users to national intelligence agencies.

Facebook has more than 1 billion users worldwide.

U.S. law enforcement authorities were by far the most active in mining Facebook, seeking information on about 20,000 to 21,000 users between January and June. That represents a slight rise from the six months between June and December 2012, when U.S. agencies requested information on roughly 18,000 to 19,000 Facebook accounts, according to figures previously released by the company.

Facebook has at least partially complied to about 80 percent of those requests, the company acknowledged on Tuesday.

Authorities in other countries with large Facebook user bases, including India, the United Kingdom and Germany, also requested information on thousands of users.

Facebook, which disclosed the figures in its first "Global Government Requests Report," said it individually scrutinized every information request and required governments to meet a "very high legal bar" to receive user data.

Although the full scope of the National Security Agency's electronic data collection programs remains unclear, Facebook has vigorously contested claims that it allows the U.S. government unfettered access to secretly gather information on a significant fraction of its users.

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said in the Tuesday report that Facebook hoped to contribute to the "ongoing debate about the proper standards for government requests for user information in official investigations."

"We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests," Stretch said. "When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name."

Facebook said it would begin to publish information on data requests on a regular basis. Google and Twitter, among other companies, have periodically released similar information for several years.

Facebook's report included secret information requests within the U.S. authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act. U.S. companies are ordinarily prohibited from acknowledging the existence of data requests made under those statutes. Facebook negotiated with the U.S. government in June to begin publishing the total number of data requests it receives without specifying how many are related to law enforcement investigations as opposed to intelligence-gathering efforts.

(Reporting by Gerry Shih; editing by Andrew Hay)

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