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S’pore Government Requested Data From 263 Users From Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram In 2017

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263 Facebook Users’ Data Requested By Singapore Government Includes Account Data, Content Restrictions And IP Address Logs

Singapore’s government apparently requested for user details of 263 Facebook users from January to June 2017, according to Facebook’s bi-annual Transparency Report.

These details may have included data from Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

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Since Instagram and WhatsApp were bought over by Facebook for billions of dollars, a lot of us may have seen this coming.

But should there be any cause for concern for Singaporeans? In short, not at all.

Unless you have something to hide, of course.

We answer your burning questions about what this ‘Transparency Report’ by Facebook really entails.

User details include account data, content restrictions and IP address logs

The million-dollar question is simply, what kind of ‘user details’ are we talking about?

Facebook clarifies that the ‘details’ revealed to law enforcers refer to:

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  1. Basic subscriber information
  2. IP address logs
  3. Account content

These are only provided to the government as part of official investigations, in many cases.

As for what data is released in minority cases, Facebook does not clarify further on this.

But according to Facebook, the vast majority of requests relate to criminal cases, like robberies or kidnappings.

So if you have committed no crimes, technically you wouldn’t have to fear having your Facebook likes and posts analysed by the government.

Facebook frequently shares basic subscriber information only

What happens in most cases when government officials request for data?

Facebook states that they “frequently share only basic subscriber information” with the government.

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Although no one but Facebook actually knows how ‘frequently’ basic subscriber information is shared, what does this information include?

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Facebook may surrender the following information about your social media profiles to the government:

  • User Identification Number
  • Email address
  • Date and time of account creation
  • Most recent logins
  • Mobile number
  • Verification if the account is publicly viewable

To be fair, this is taken from Facebook’s document to legal enforcement officers dated back in 2009. We’re not sure if this policy has been updated since then.

59% success rate by Singapore government in obtaining user details

Of course, it sounds extremely scary that all your data hosted on chat messaging app WhatsApp and social sharing app Instagram are at Facebook’s disposal.

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But before you start panicking about the government accessing all your personal data without your permission, hear us out.

Facebook’s bi-annual Transparency Report is part of their efforts to remain transparent about the kind of data that they share with governments around the world.

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This means that the Singapore’s government is not the only one that makes such requests to Facebook. Singapore also ranks a mere 26th among the 129 countries listed.

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Also, it seems that the our government was only 59% successful in all of their requests for our details on social media.

Facebook only entertains valid and specific requests

When we take a look at the actual transparency report hosted onsite, Facebook has clarified that they will only respond to valid requests relating to criminal cases.

Furthermore, every request received is “checked for legal sufficiency”.

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This means that Facebook will look into how valid the government’s request for data is, before proceeding to release the information.

Facebook also reserves the right to “reject or require greater specificity on requests that are overly broad or vague”.

So don’t worry, requests for your personal data on Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram will only be entertained by Facebook if it is specific and valid.

Facebook preserves account records up to 90 days for criminal investigations

Facebook entertains preservation requests, which refer to keeping account records “in connection with official criminal investigations” intact for up to 90 days.

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However, this only applicable when Facebook receives official confirmation of a “formal legal process”.

And how is this process started? Law enforcement officers have to fill in this form on Facebook:

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Thankfully, law enforcement officers will have to verify their identities with Facebook before they can request for information.

If a regular person were to try to pull the same stunt, they will be subject to prosecution under the law.

Transparency app-lies to everyone

We are led to wonder what other social sharing apps do with our data, when it’s their turn to cooperate with the government.

As it turns out, other apps also have similar policies.

Facebook helpfully links you to other transparency reports including Apple, Dropbox, Google, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter and Yahoo on their page.

We may have just opened a can of worms.
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Then again, most of us don’t have much to worry about. After all, only 263 out of 3.5 million Facebook users’ details were requested by the government in Singapore.

We’ll just have to take our chances with those odds for now.

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Featured image from Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Transparency Report FAQ.

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Joelynn loves writing plays, poems, songs and finger-combing her two precious bunnies. She also believes that two puns are better than none.

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