Tuesday 20 August 2019

How gardaí are enlisting Facebook’s help in fight against crime

Requests for information from social media site quadruple in just six months

Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Bloomberg
Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Bloomberg
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Irish authorities are increasingly using Facebook to investigate citizens, new figures show.

The number of State requests to Facebook seeking access to personal content quadrupled in the first six months of the year, according to the company's latest Transparency Report.

Irish authorities made 89 requests about 80 Facebook account holders in this period compared to just 20 requests about 18 Facebook account holders for the same time frame in 2015.

Facebook says that it furnished Irish authorities with some information about account holders in two-thirds of cases. According to Facebook, requests can include applications to access messages, photos, videos, timeline posts and location information.

Typical requests relate to criminal cases, Facebook said in its report, such as robberies or kidnappings.

"We may also supply law enforcement with information to help prevent or respond to fraud and other illegal activity," said the social network's report.

"In many of these cases, the government is requesting basic subscriber information, such as name and length of service. Requests may also ask for IP address logs or account content."

The social network also received 117 requests from Irish authorities to preserve records related to 320 different accounts and prevent them being deleted for 90 days.

Facebook turned down its only "emergency" request during the first six months of 2016.

According to the company, emergency requests "sometime means providing information to law enforcement officials that will help them respond to emergencies, including those that involve the immediate risk of harm, suicide prevention and the recovery of missing children".

Globally, government requests for account data increased by 27pc compared to the last six months of 2015, increasing from 46,710 to 59,229 requests overall.

However, Facebook executives were at pains to say that they do not lightly hand over user information.

"We apply a rigorous approach to every government request we receive to protect the information of the people who use our services," said Chris Sonderby, deputy general counsel for Facebook.

"We scrutinise 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."

In total, Irish authorities made more account requests of Facebook than any other social media or technology company.

Microsoft received 32 requests during the first six months of the year while Google and Yahoo received 19 and 17 requests respectively.

Twitter only received four requests in the same time period.

Apple was served with 268 requests, but only five of these related to iCloud or iTunes accounts - 262 of the requests came in relation to device requests.

Irish Independent

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