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BENGALURU/NEW DELHI: The government sent Facebook 22,684 legal and emergency requests for data in the first six months of the year, making India the second-largest country to request information on its citizens after the United States.

These requests comprised information on 33,324 users and accounts. Facebook said it complied with about 54% of the requests. The government’s requests touched an all-time high from a mere 3,245 requests during the same six-month period in 2013.

In the first half of 2019, governments requests globally for user data increased by 16% to 128,617 from 110,634. “Of the total volume, the US continues to submit the largest number of requests, followed by India, the UK, Germany and France,” Facebook deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby said in a post.

Facebook said legal requests are those received from government that are accompanied by legal process, like a search warrant.

“We always scrutinize every government request we receive for account data to make sure it is legally valid. This is true no matter which government makes the request… We do not provide governments with “back doors” to people’s information,” Sonderby added.

Out of the 22,684 requests, about 7% were emergency related, where law enforcement may submit requests without legal process. This percentage has also seen a steady rise from 4% last year and only 2% a year before.

Facebook said, based on the circumstances, it may voluntarily disclose information to law enforcement agencies if it has a good reason to believe that the matter involves imminent risk of serious physical injury or death.

During the January-June period, Facebook restricted 1,250 pieces of content in India in response to legal requests from law enforcement agencies, court orders, and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

They were primarily related to categories of hate speech, anti-religion content constituting incitement to violence, defamation, extremism, anti-government, and anti-state content. It also restricted access to 217 items in response to private reports related to defamation.

Facebook also temporarily restricted access to 448 items in response to reports received from the Election Commission of India alleging that the content was subject to election blackout periods. Access to this content was restored by the social network following the end of the applicable blackout period.

In a separate report on enforcement of community standards, Facebook said it disabled 1.7 billion fake accounts between July and September 2019 across the world, taking the total number so far this year to 5.4 billion accounts. Even though the number is less than the all-time high of 2.2 billion fake accounts acted upon between January and March this year, the July-September number is the second highest since the October-December period of 2017.

“Because we are blocking more attempts to create fake, abusive accounts before they are even created, there are fewer for us to disable and, thus, accounts actioned has declined since Q1 2019,” the social media giant said in its report.

Prevalence of fake accounts continues to be estimated at about 5% of its worldwide monthly active users (MAU) on Facebook. Close to 99.7% of the fake accounts were taken down by Facebook on its own before users reported them, the company said. Content related to hate speech, which was taken down, was at an all-time high, with 7 million pieces acted upon, of which 80.2% were detected by Facebook.

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