Earlier this week, companies began to seek permission to release the number of government data requests it receives, something that was kicked off by Google with a letter it made public on one of its blogs. It has only been a couple days, but permission has been granted, and both Facebook and Microsoft have posted numbers detailing government requests and the particulars that go with that.
First up is Facebook, which says that legally it has not been allowed to "confirm or acknowledge" requests for data on investigations related to national security. It goes on to say that despite its inability to detail the requests, that it does analyze them, and that it "frequently rejects such requests outright." Revelations on PRISM, top-secret FISA requests, and such that have been brought to light in recent days has prompted the social network to seek permission to post statistics on the requests it receives.
As a result of talks with the powers that be, the social network says it has been given permission to provide aggregated and ranged data on both National Security Letters and FISA requests. As far as numbers go, in the last six months of 2012, Facebook says its requests totaled between 9,000 and 10,000, and covered such things like local law enforcement investigating a child abduction case all the way through investigations into terrorist threats. These requests spanned between 18,000 and 19,000 Facebook accounts.
As for Microsoft, it has a similar story, saying that it can talk about national security orders, of which there "may [be included] FISA orders." The company goes on to say that it isn't allowed to say whether it has received FISA requests for data, just that should it have received any, such numbers are included in the numbers that it has published.
In the last six months of 2012, Microsoft says it received between 6,000 and 7,000 national security requests and criminal warrants, orders, and subpoenas that span a total of between 31,000 and 32,000 consumers accounts. These requests cover law enforcement agencies in the US ranging from local to state and federal.
Both Microsoft and Facebook say they are pushing for permission to publish more detailed numbers in the future.
Update: Google has spoken up about these revealed numbers, saying that such publishing isn't helpful, and is actually going the wrong direction. Said a Google spokesperson: "We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests. We already publish criminal requests separately from National Security Letters. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.”