Today Facebook released its first Global Government Requests Report, which tells us how many requests for user data they received during the first six months of 2013. It’s broken down by country, and you’ll be unsurprised to learn that the United States earned the top spot: a total of about 11,000 requests covering 20,000 individual accounts.
But wait. The United States is a big country, so the fact that it made more requests than, say, Ireland, doesn’t tell us much. A more useful metric would adjust for population, telling us how many requests were made per million Facebook users (data here). That’s far from perfect, since data requests can cover users from any country, but I think it tells us a little more than just looking at the raw number of requests.
The chart below shows the top 20 among countries that made more than ten requests—which obviously doesn’t include countries like China and Iran, where Facebook is banned. So who came in #1? The answer may surprise you:
Malta! I imagine that this is explained by Malta’s status as a tax haven for Russian oligarchs, who are perhaps a little too eager to show off their riches on their Facebook pages. Or something.
The weirdness of Malta aside, the real takeaway from this chart is that the United States isn’t really very unique in its desire to spy on people. When you adjust for their smaller size, Germany, France, Italy, and the UK are all in the same league. These countries may not intercept phone calls on the scale we do, but if Facebook nosiness is any clue, that’s only because they don’t have the technical capability, not because the idea outrages them.
In any case, you can draw your own conclusions from this. But I think it gives us a decent idea of which countries are the most active and dedicated when it comes to internet surveillance.