Prism: Facebook first to reveal US data requests

As the first US internet company involved in the internet surveillance scandal, Facebook on 14 June made public figures regarding requests by US government authorities for users’ data.

The world’s largest social network said that it had received 9,000 to 10,000 requests by local, state and federal government agencies to disclose information contained in between 18,000 and 19,000 user accounts in the second half of 2012, but did not reveal how many of these requests it had complied with.

The 29-year-old system analyst Edward Snowden, employed by a contractor to the US National Security Agency (NSA), had on 7 June leaked documents on the secret cyber spying programme Prism to the newspapers The Guardian and The Washington Post. By means of this programme, NSA had over the years 2007 to 2011 accessed the servers of big internet companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and AOL for a wide range of users’ data, targeting in particular non-American users, officially to find information about suspected terrorist.

In order to counter reports of unlimited surveillance threatening to undermine foreign users’ trust, Facebook and several other US internet companies pressed Washington for permission to disclose the figures. So far, internet companies have been legally prohibited from revealing that they have received requests for information about non-American users made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Following negotiations with government authorities, they have now been allowed to publish the FISA requests together with other government inquiries.