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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Facebook Discloses Basic Data on Law-Enforcement Requests

12:10 a.m. Saturday, June 15, 2013 | Updated Added Microsoft's release of more data on Friday night.

Facebook on Friday disclosed for the first time how many requests for data about its 1.1 billion users it had gotten from law enforcement authorities in the United States.

The social networking company said that in the last six months of 2012, it had 9,000 to 10,000 requests for information about its users from local, state and federal agencies. Those requests covered 18,000 to 19,000 user accounts.

“These requests run the gamut - from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat,” the company's general counsel, Ted Ullyot, said in a blog post disclosing the data.

Facebook said it was legally prohibited from saying how many of the data requests were related to national security. But generally speaking, the vast majority of the law-enforcement data requests received by tech companies are for other matters, like local criminal cases.

Facebook's disclosure comes after negotiations with the federal government that began after the first news reports a week ago about the National Security Agency's secret Prism surveillance program. Those reports revealed that a number of American Internet companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, had secretly provided data about foreigners to the United States government under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The tech companies have also secretly provided data to the F.B.I. under National Security Letters, which the government uses to gather information about Americans.

Under federal law, companies generally cannot disclose even the existence of national security data requests they receive. But in recent days, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have been pressing the government for permission to share more information.

“We're pleased that as a result of our discussions, we can now include in a transparency report all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters) â€" which until now no company has been permitted to do,” Mr. Ullyot wrote. “As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range. This is progress, but we're continuing to push for even more transparency.”

Google had previously published a transparency report that included N.S.L. but not FISA data requests. Microsoft's recent transparency report similarly excluded FISA requests but included National Security Letters.

Late Friday, after Facebook's data release, Microsoft provided similar information about requests for data that it had received from law enforcement at all levels of government.

For the six months ending Dec. 31, 2012, Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts from governmental entities in the United States, the company's deputy general counsel, John Frank, said in a statement.

“We have not received any national security orders of the type that Verizon was reported to have received that required Verizon to provide business records about U.S. customers,” Mr. Frank said.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 15, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Microsoft's transparency report. It included National Security Letters requests, but excluded FISA requests. It did not exclude both types of national security requests.

A version of this article appeared in print on 06/15/2013, on page B2 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Facebook Offers View Of Requests For User Data.