Facebook is one social media platform where people from all walks of life share pretty much everything about their life, from work and school to events and adventures. It’s a giant database constantly feeding and growing on personal information.
By the end of the first quarter of 2018, Facebook had more than 1.9 billion active users around the world. It should therefore come as no surprise that requests for Facebook data from government agencies have also skyrocketed with time.
Law Enforcement Agency Requests for Facebook Data Continue to Rise
According to the Facebook biannual report, which provides a good idea of how interested US law enforcement agencies really are in the data that Facebook users create on a daily basis, that interest is increasing. In fact, from the first half of 2013 to the end of 2016, the total data requests and accounts targeted by law enforcement agencies have more than doubled.
What’s perhaps more alarming is that around 56 percent of all government requests accompanied a non-disclosure order that legally restrains Facebook from notifying the affected user. So, there is no way Facebook users would know if US law enforcement agencies either requested their data or if it has been compromised.
According to the Facebook report, by the second half of 2016, Facebook received 14,736 search warrant requests, 6,536 subpoenas, 738 court orders (18 USC 2703(d)), 236 court orders (non-18 USC 2703(d)), 1,948 pen register/trap and trace requests, 1,695 emergency disclosures and 125 real-time wiretap requests.
Action of ACLU against these Alarming Stats
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken notice of these stats. It has especially voiced concerns over the complete absence of disclosures that play an integral role in the transparency of the entire process.
What is more disturbing, however, is that businesses have realized how big a gold mine social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter really are since they store everything they could possibly want to know about a potential consumer.
By knowing about the personal information, geolocation, browsing habits, and likes and dislikes of Facebook users, businesses would be in a better position to tailor their ads according to their needs, tastes and preferences. So your personal data is literally up for sale to the highest bidder.
Nicole Ozer, Director of Technology and Civil Liberties Policy at ACLU California, stated in a post on govtech.com that the legal framework of California has seen consistent progressive updates over the years, but federal communications privacy law is one area that still remains unchanged for more three decades.
Ozer is quoted, “The federal law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, is supposed to … make sure there are proper safeguards in place for when the government can demand electronic information, including things like data from Facebook. That law has not been updated since 1986. In 1986, cellphones were the size of bricks, Mark Zuckerberg was still in diapers, the World Wide Web did not even exist.”
She further states that owing to large loopholes in outdated privacy laws, many US law enforcement agencies continue to aggressively pursue myriad forms of digital communications with complete impunity and absolute disregard for user privacy.
Of the various types of information available to be collected by law enforcement, Ozer believes there is one in particular that should concern Facebook users the most. There is information out there on the back end of platforms and services that is not easily visible to the public.
“This data isn’t publicly available where you can just go onto Facebook; this is actually data held by the back end of the company and you are compelling it with a warrant or another type of legal process,” explained Ozer in the govtech.com post. “That third piece, the kind of legal process that is required for sort of accessing this very sensitive back-end data, that law has not been updated and it leaves a lot of gray areas, which can make users quite vulnerable.”
Seeing how government requests for Facebook data have more than doubled in the last four years, this should leave a lot of questions on the minds of users of social media, the most important of which is, “How safe is our data on social media?” And the brutal irony about all this is that the personal data of Facebook users is being collected and scrutinized by the very people sworn in to protect them!
In a Nutshell
As digital communication connects the far corners of the globe, we are bound to see more and more people connecting to Facebook and other social media. And with this increase in users, a consequent increase in government requests for intelligence data seems inevitable. So, unless US states solidify their legal framework around digital privacy, bipartisan support at the federal level will continue to encourage law enforcement agencies to exploit loopholes.