Last year saw a surge in “emergency” requests to Facebook for user information by the Indian government and law enforcement agencies.
As per the company’s latest transparency report, released late Tuesday night, the government made 3,369 emergency requests to the social media company in 2019, more than double such requests (1,478) in 2018, and far more than the numbers in 2017 (460) and 2016 (121).
The Facebook report said, “In emergencies, law (agencies) may submit requests without legal process. Based on the circumstances, we may voluntarily disclose information to law enforcement (agencies), where we have a good faith reason to believe that the matter involves imminent risk of serious physical injury or death.”
The surge in emergency requests for user information by the government coincided with 2019 being an election year, and a year that saw protests across the country over contentious decisions such as the dilution of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and proposal for a National Register of Citizens.
The total requests made by the government (including through the legal process) have also been growing — jumping 30% from 37,000-plus requests in 2018 to almost 50,000 in 2019.
At the same time, government requests have led to lesser content takedowns, with roughly 2,000 such incidents in 2019 compared to almost 20,000 in 2018. These requests include those made by the Election Commission about blackout on any campaigning ahead of voting.
The requests are increasingly regarding posts on Instagram, owned by Facebook, signalling the government’s growing interest in that platform.
The Indian Express had earlier reported on the rise in data requests made in the first half of 2019, with 1,615 emergency requests made till then. The new data shows that the second half of 2019 crossed this number, seeing 1,754 emergency requests.
Nearly all Internet disruptions in the world were recorded from India in 2019, the total standing at 41, with the duration lasting from 18 hours to three weeks. Half of these disruptions (21) were in December 2019, when anti-CAA protests were at their peak.
Normally, data requests to a US-based company such as Facebook have to be routed through the US Department of Justice, as per the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries. However, “emergency” requests can be sent directly to Facebook, through its “law enforcement online request system”.
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