Sunday, May 22, 2022

Facebook rejects Botswana Govt’s request for private information on citizen users

Popular online social network, Facebook, this week revealed that it has thrown out a secret request by the Botswana government for confidential information on seven Batswana Facebook users.

Facebook revealed in its first ever Transparency Report released this week that Botswana made three requests during the past six months for confidential information on citizen Facebook users.
Facebook, however, rejected all the three requests which it felt were inappropriate.

Transparency Reports, pioneered by Google, are the latest tool used by tech companies to stand up for their patrons by exposing state surveillance and spying on citizen internet users. Through the transparency reports, tech companies expose government’s secretive requests known in the United States of America as National Security Letters.

Sunday Standard could not establish the identity of the seven Facebook users that government is trying to keep tabs on. Government spokesperson, Dr Jeff Ramsay, on Friday said he did not have information about who might have asked Facebook administrators for details of the seven users.

Facebook listed Botswana among three African countries that, in the first six months of this year, asked administrators of the social networking site for details of its users.

Responding to Sunday Standard queries, Ramsay said: “I do not know who, if any, in Government might have made such a request. Therefore, I have no response to 2 & 3 (questions from Sunday Standard).”
It is understood that the requests are made under the dockets of national security and criminal investigations by governments. But Ramsay insisted that he does not have information as to who could have sent the request to Facebook.

The Sunday Standard sought to establish, among other things, if Botswana was likely to reapply for information denied because government failed to meet the requirements and the nature of requirements that government failed to meet.

Facebook’s general Counsel, Mr Colin Stretch, noted that the release of the report is aimed at helping the on-going global debate about proper standards for governments around the world to access user information.

The list put out by Facebook shows that Botswana was among governments that requested for user information to conduct official investigations.

However, the social network site declined to disclose the data of the users that government had requested for.

“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,” Stretch said in a blogpost. “We want to make sure that the people who use our services understand the nature and extent of the requests we receive and the strict policies and processes we have in place to handle them.”

Five African countries made the list with South Africa leading at 14 requests. Egypt has 8, Ivory Coast 4, Botswana 3, while Uganda had one request.

Not a single African government request for Facebook data was accepted by the social network, while the United States had 79 per cent of up to 12,000 requests accepted.

Facebook is among the US-based technology companies to have been accused by the Guardian newspaper after leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden of secretly cooperating with the National Security Agency (NSA).

Reports indicate that Facebook has a stringent legal process for governments to access user data which involves detailed information of a legal basis and factual evidence for each request.

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