Our Continuing Commitment to Transparency

By Chris Sonderby, VP & Deputy General Counsel

Today, we are releasing our latest Transparency Report for the first half of 2020.

At Facebook, we’ve published biannual transparency reports since 2013 because we strive to be open and proactive in the way we safeguard users’ privacy, security and access to information online. While our initial reports focused on the nature and extent of government requests we receive for user data, we have expanded our report over the years to include the volume of content restrictions based on local law, the number of global internet disruptions that limit access to our products, and reports of intellectual property infringement.

Our Transparency Report also includes the seventh Community Standards Enforcement Report, which includes data on how we take action against violating content across our platforms. 

Government Requests for User Data

During the first six months of 2020, government requests for user data increased by 23% from 140,875 to 173,592. Of the total volume, the US continues to submit the largest number of requests, followed by India, Germany, France, and the UK.

In the US, we received 61,528 requests, an increase of 20% compared to the second half of 2019.  For US requests, non-disclosure orders prohibiting Facebook from notifying the user remained flat at 67% in the first half of 2020.  In addition, as a result of transparency updates introduced in the 2016 USA Freedom Act, the US government lifted the non-disclosure orders on 16 National Security Letters we received between 2015 and 2019. These requests, along with the US government’s authorization letters, are available below.

Safeguarding Data

We appreciate the focus of governments across the globe on protecting and safeguarding people’s data, including in the US and Europe, and we work hard to do our part. We comply with government requests for user information only where we have a good-faith belief that the law requires us to do so. In addition, we assess whether a request is consistent with internationally recognized standards on human rights, including due process, privacy, free expression and the rule of law. We scrutinize every government request we receive to make sure it is legally valid, no matter which government makes the request. When we do comply, we produce only information that is narrowly tailored to respond to that request. If we determine that a government request is deficient, we push back and engage governments to address any apparent deficiencies. Where appropriate, we will legally challenge deficient requests. 

We encourage governmental entities to submit only requests that are necessary, proportionate, specific, and strictly compliant with applicable laws, by publishing guidelines for government requests. We also believe that people have a right to know when a government requests their data and it is our policy to notify people who use our service of requests for their information prior to disclosure unless we are prohibited by law from doing so or in exceptional circumstances, such as child exploitation cases, emergencies or when notice would be counterproductive. 

In addition, we actively engage with governments to encourage practices that protect peoples’ rights. We belong to advocacy groups like the Global Network Initiative, whose mission is to advance the freedom of expression and privacy rights of Internet users worldwide, and Reform Government Surveillance, which advocates for government data requests to be rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, subject to strong oversight and protective of end-to-end encryption. 

We do not provide governments with direct access or “back doors” to people’s information. We believe that intentionally weakening our services in this way would undermine the security necessary to protect our users. In addition, we would challenge any order that sought to have us redesign our systems to undermine the encryption we provide to protect people’s data. We would also challenge any attempt to gag us from disclosing the existence of such an order and our efforts to fight it.

Content Restrictions

When content is reported as violating local law, but doesn’t go against our Community Standards, we may limit access to that content in the country where it is allegedly illegal. During this reporting period, the volume of content restrictions based on local law increased globally 40% from 15,826 to 22,120. The increase was in part related to COVID-related restrictions.  

Internet Disruptions

Because we believe that disrupting internet connectivity can undermine economic activity and free expression, we also report the number of deliberate internet disruptions caused by governments around the world that impact the availability of our products. In the first half of 2020, we identified 52 disruptions of Facebook services in nine countries, compared to 45 disruptions in six countries in the second half of 2019. 

Intellectual Property

Finally, we report on the volume and nature of copyright, trademark and counterfeit reports we receive each half as well as the amount of content impacted by those reports. During this reporting period, we took down 3,716,817 pieces of content based on 659,444 copyright reports; 404,078 pieces of content based on 166,310 trademark reports; and 1,308,834 pieces of content based on 97,186 counterfeit reports. Advances in our technology including updates to Rights Manager attributed to increases across content removals. 

Publishing this report reflects our ongoing commitment to transparency.

You can see the full report for more information.

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