Facebook social media network
Facebook says it released personal data on over 6,000 users to the UK government and data on 31,000 users to the US government in the first half of 2016. Reuters

Social media network Facebook has admitted that it provided the British government with the personal details of over 6,000 users in the first half of 2016 in order to assist emergency situations and criminal proceedings.

In a report released on 21 December, Facebook says that it was asked to provide access to 7,199 user profiles between January to June 2016. Access to 6,039 accounts was requested for criminal investigation purposes, while access to an additional 1,160 profiles was requested under an emergency mandate that requires the release of data in any case where there is an "imminent risk of serious injury or death".

Facebook says that it only granted 87% of the requests (6,263 user profiles) and that it pushed the authorities to be more specific about the data required on requests that were "overly broad or vague".

The US topped the list of 102 countries that requested Facebook release personal details on users, requiring information on 38,951 user profiles (56% of all requests), followed by India, which asked for data on 8,290 accounts (12%); the UK with 7,199 user profile requests (10%); Germany, which requested data on 4,599 accounts (7%); and Brazil, which requested access to 4,486 user profiles (6%).

Back doors not permitted

Unlike most countries in the report, the social network goes into detail for the US country report, listing seven different types of official requests including court orders, emergency disclosures, search warrants, subpoenas, and court orders that relate specifically to identifying an IP address or gaining real-time information on a person suspected of committing a communications-related crime detailed in the Wiretap Act.

For the US, Facebook says that it only granted 81% of the requests, meaning that it released data on 31,550 user profiles.

In total, from January to June 2016, law enforcement around the world requested emergency access to 4,192 accounts in order to prevent imminent risk of serious injury or death.

"As we have previously emphasised, we apply a rigorous approach to every government request we receive to protect the information of the people who use our services. We scrutinise each request for legal sufficiency, no matter which country is making the request, and challenge those that are deficient or overly broad," said Facebook's deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby.

"We do not provide governments with 'back doors' or direct access to people's information. We'll also keep working with partners in industry and civil society to push governments around the world to reform surveillance in a way that protects their citizens' safety and security while respecting their rights and freedoms."