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Facebook, Microsoft reveal number of government requests for your info, but no details

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Last Friday, Facebook and Microsoft were permitted to release some basic information about their involvement with the NSA and the government. Facebook said it was asked to provide data on 18,000 to 19,000 users and Microsoft received 7,000 such orders.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Facebook and Microsoft released information on Friday about requests from the government for information on users. Facebook said they have received between 18,000 and 19,000 requests from the government for information on specific users during the last six months of 2012.

Microsoft said they have received orders affecting about 31,000 and 32,000 accounts.

Both firms were very limited in what they were permitted to say. Neither firm could elaborate on how many requests were related to various concerns.

The variety of requests ranged widely, from investigations on missing children to the tracking of fugitives, to terrorism.

On June 7, Mark Zuckerberg said "We strongly encourage all governments to be much more transparent about all programs aimed at keeping the public safe.

It's the only way to protect everyone's civil liberties and create the safe and free society we all want over the long term."

Facebook said it does not comply with all requests. Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general counsel, said that "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."

Other firms including Google, have issued statements. Google says it differentiates between the types of requests, separating national security requests from all other types.

The various firms are asking the government for permission to provide users more transparacy.

User privacy is a major concern for many denizens of the internet, and with the level of personal information provided by users online, individuals have become leery of losing their privacy.

Until recently, the major privacy concern was how sites like Facebook aggregate specific user data to provide targeted marketing to services to advertisers. Users seem to have accepted this as the cost of using Facebook and other online media. We're used to marketers using our data to generate sales.

However, new concerns have emerged. If the government is collecting our data, either deliberately or accidentally, what are they doing with it? More importantly, could that data be someday used to persecute individuals?

This is the warning provided by George Orwell in 1984. Someday, a technologically sophisticated society will develop the means of observing the private dealings of individuals and persecute suspected threats in the name of security.

We're not there yet, by no means. But we sure are a lot closer than we were a decade ago.

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