This Friday's night tape bomb came not from the administration, which may have run out of scandals and wars to reveal for the time being, but from FaceBook which late in the evening disclosed the extent to which it has been cooperating with the government in spying on its users. Which also changes the public narrative built upon a pyramid of lies and secrecy one more time - recall how one week ago the company tried to wash its hands one weeks ago when Mark Zuckerberg said that "Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers." Just indirect.
So in what was spun to be a rebellious act by a private company, long-cooperating secretly with the government, FaceBook's general councel posted on the company's news blog that the company is releasing data "including all national security requests." In doing so FB became the first US internet company to reveal the extent of official US government demands to hand over information, including confidential, about its users.
From Ted Ullyot, FB general counsel:
Over the last week, in press statements as well as Mark’s post last Friday, we’ve repeatedly called for governments worldwide to be willing to provide more details about programs aimed at keeping the public safe. We’ve also urged them to allow companies to divulge appropriate information about government orders and requests that we receive, in a manner that does not compromise legitimate security concerns.
Requests from law enforcement entities investigating national security-related cases are by their nature classified and highly sensitive, and the law traditionally has placed significant constraints on the ability of companies like Facebook to even confirm or acknowledge receipt of these requests – let alone provide details of our responses.
We’ve reiterated in recent days that we scrutinize every government data request that we receive – whether from state, local, federal, or foreign governments. We’ve also made clear that we aggressively protect our users’ data when confronted with such requests: we frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested. And we respond only as required by law.
But particularly in light of continued confusion and inaccurate reporting related to this issue, we’ve advocated for the ability to say even more.
Odd how the company did not advocate the ability to say more before this scandal broke out. Could it have something to do with the fact that the company is suddenly experiencing an exodus of users who have no interest in being part of a confirmed spy game?
So just what does Facebook's post-facto transparency initiative reveal?
We’re pleased that as a result of our discussions, we can now include in a transparency report all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters) – which until now no company has been permitted to do. As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range. This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds.
For the six months ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received from any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests) – was between 9,000 and 10,000. These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat. The total number of Facebook user accounts for which data was requested pursuant to the entirety of those 9-10 thousand requests was between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.
In other words FB is taking the "look how rarely we hand over all your information to the government, so you must acquit route." Oh, and ignore that we are only disclosing this tiny fraction of privacy betrayal after everyone went "hyperbolic" on us. Yes, they really used that word:
With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of one percent of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government request (including criminal and national security-related requests) in the past six months. We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved, and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive.
We will continue to be vigilant in protecting our users’ data from unwarranted government requests, and we will continue to push all governments to be as transparent as possible.
One wonders why press accounts may have been hyperbolic: perhaps it has something to do with the complete cloak of secrecy that PRISM has been operating under, and the trickle of information exposing just how symbiotic private corporations have been in handing over user secrets in exchange for money or other confidential data: one massive information interchange between the ruling apparatus and a select few individuals at America's most prominent internet companies. How dare the media resort to "hyperbolic assertions" indeed.
As for Facebook's "push" for transparency, and not just in terms of its user profiles being transparented to the NSA, we are confident the company will continue doing so... as more information dissemination secrets are revealed, and as more lies are exposed.
Finally, with Facebook so vocally (if a little late) unleashing the "transparency movement" late on Friday, Microsoft was next... almost as if completely coordinated.
Microsoft later said that for the last six months of 2012 it received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts, Reuters reported.
Well, thanks for stepping up guys. We are confident that even without Snowden's revelations you would have done right with your clients regardless.