Government agencies around the world demanded access to the information of over 38,000 Facebook users in the first half of this year, and more than half the orders came from the United States, the company said on Tuesday.
Facebook's first "global government requests report" covers the first six months of 2013, ending 30 June. It comes as the social network giant and its peers are coming under intense scrutiny following revelations about their co-operation with the National Security Agency's mass surveillance of US and foreign citizens.
"Transparency and trust are core values at Facebook. We strive to embody them in all aspects of our services, including our approach to responding to government data requests," Colin Stretch, Facebook general counsel, said in a blogpost. "We want to make sure that the people who use our service understand the nature and extent of the requests we receive and the strict policies and processes we have in place to handle them."
US authorities made 11,000-12,000 requests for information on 20,000-21,000 individuals over the six months. The company complied in 79% of cases. Facebook said it had to give a range for the US figures in order to give an indication of "all criminal and national security requests to the maximum extent permitted by law".
The figures released by Facebook give no detail on the types of requests received or of what type of information the company handed over. Facebook, along with Google and others, is currently pressing Congress to be allowed to give greater detail the number of requests it receives from the US authorities.
The NSA has the the authority to demand data about communications with non-US citizens without specific warrants and gags companies from disclosing even the most basic details of those cases.
"We continue to push the United States government to allow more transparency regarding these requests, including specific numbers and types of national security-related requests. We will publish updated information for the United States as soon as we obtain legal authorisation to do so," said Facebook.
"As we have made clear in recent weeks, we have stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests. We believe this process protects the data of the people who use our service, and requires governments to meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of our users," said Stretch.
It is not clear from Facebook's report whether the US figures take into account collection of communications under section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act, which allows the NSA to target non-US persons without an individual warrant. In June, the Guardian revealed that this was done via the agency's Prism collection program with NSA documents claiming that Facebook had been a corporate partner since 3 June 2009.
Under the law only one end of the communications needs to be foreign, meaning that US persons' communications can be collected if they are in correspondence with a foreign target. And it has also emerged that the NSA inadvertently sweeps up large amounts of purely domestic US communications in the course of its foreign intelligence operations.
Facebook, and Twitter, have become organising platforms for activists around the world. The figures show Facebook pushed back against requests from governments in both Egypt and Turkey. Egypt made eight requests for information on 11 account holders over the six months and Facebook did not comply with any of them in that period.