Did the Government make requests to Facebook?

September 11, 2015

People have been asking the question recently. I also got this question tossed at me by a journalist. I could only answer that, yes, the Government can make requests to Facebook in order to get subscriber information. Whether they did it or not in recent investigations I cannot say.

I visited the website of the Mauritius Police Force in order to find details about the Cyber Crime Unit. Unfortunately, I could see several “units” but Cyber Crime. Thus, looking for information related to requests made by Police in connection to the various investigations of cyber crime, would be futile, at least on the website.

On 9 September 2015, lexpress.mu published that two internet users were arrested for the racial comments that they made on Facebook.

Facebook fake profiles

Did the Government made requests to Facebook?

Fake profiles can be used to spread rumors, pictures and stories that can stir-up social unrests. The faces behind these profiles cannot be unmasked unless their details are revealed by Facebook. Such requests are often made by government agencies as part of criminal investigations. Facebook makes such requests transparent by publishing reports on a regular basis.

I verified the reports from January 2013 till December 2014 and there were no requests made by the Government of Mauritius. This leads me to believe, that anyone in Mauritius having been convicted on evidence brought forward through Facebook comments (or other items) might have been un-verified.

Government Requests Report can be downloaded from facebook.com. Mauritius does not feature in the list. Based on this information, I would now answer that Facebook did not entertain any request from the Government of Mauritius. However, I still cannot answer whether the Government made any request.

How does Facebook respond to requests?
Facebook says the following,
We have strict processes in place to handle these government requests. Each and every request we receive is checked for legal sufficiency. We require officials to provide a detailed description of the legal and factual basis for their request, and we push back when we find legal deficiencies or overly broad or vague demands for information. Even where we determine that local law would compel disclosure, we frequently share only basic subscriber information.

The guidelines regarding the form of requests are specified.

We will be unable to process overly broad or vague requests. All requests must identify requested records with particularity and include the following:
The name of the issuing authority, badge/ID number of responsible agent, email address from a law-enforcement domain, and direct contact phone number.
The email address, user ID number (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1000000XXXXXXXX) or username (http://www.facebook.com/username) of the Facebook profile.

When I read the requirement of “an email address from a law-enforcement domain”, I instantly thought of the govmu.org addresses. Trying to imagine the reaction of the people at Facebook when they’d get a request from that address.

An article appeared on defimedia.info on the 5th September 2015, where the following was mentioned:

L’ICTA peut également adresser une correspondance au site Internet sur lequel a eu lieu l’usurpation d’identité alléguée afin qu’il fasse le nécessaire pour remédier à la situation. Hélas, ces requêtes restent souvent sans réponse.

If the ICT Authority made a request to Facebook and didn’t receive a reply, I wonder whether the ICT Authority followed the proper guidelines.

Microsoft & Google responding to government requests

Facebook isn’t the only company that is transparent with regards to government requests. Microsoft does the same for all its services, including email and Skype. Mauritius does not feature in the list of countries having made any request.

Google responded to one request from the Government of Mauritius. It was recorded on the 12th December 2013.

Facebook data for government requests was mentioned on the Mauritius Internet Users mailing list.

Facebook was blocked on the 9th November 2007 for half a day due to investigations on a fake profile of Dr. Navin Chandra Ramgoolam. The Facebook ban by the local authorities was a real shame and it makes us appear to live in an “internet-censored” country. There is an article on bbc.com that mentions the ban as well as references on Wikipedia.

Image source : intergalacticrobot.blogspot.com