Between 2013 and 2021, the Indian government made 8.23 lakh requests for user data to big technology companies — Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft — according to a report by a Netherlands-based VPN provider, Surfshark.
India ranked first in South Asia, seventh in Asia and 36th globally out of 137 countries.
The report ranked the US at No 1, followed by Germany and Singapore.
The Union government sought information on 58.7 social media accounts for every one lakh accounts in the nine years.
As per the report, the total accounts requested in nine years by authorities from 177 countries are 66.26 lakh.
The report says it is based on information from “transparency reports” published by Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft.
“On one hand, introducing such new measures could help solve serious criminal cases, but civil society organisations expressed their concerns of encouraging surveillance techniques which may later be used, for example, to track down political rivals,” Privacy Counsel at Surfshark Gabriele Kaveckyte said.
9 years, 1,476% increase, Meta requested the most
The report excluded countries with less than 10 lakh population due to statistical accuracy.
From 2013 to 2021, the requests by the Indian government for user data rose by 1,476 percent.
Incidentally, it coincides with the reign of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre that came to power in 2014.
During the Covid-19 period, between 2020 and 2021, requests from the Indian government grew by 55 percent, according to the report.
In the same period, requests for data from users have shot up globally too.
“The number of accounts requested increased more than five times from 2013 to 2021, with 2021 seeing a year-over-year increase of around 25 percent,” Surfshark’s report said.
It should be noted that Meta hosted the most accounts that interested authorities among all four companies (28 lakh) or two out of five accounts requested during this time, said the report.
In contrast, Apple held the fewest requested accounts — 416,000 — or just six percent of the total accounts of interest to governments.
Apple leads disclosure rate
As per the report, companies fully or partially disclosed data from around 25 lakh requests from the Indian government from 2013 or 2021.
“Companies comply with more requests every year. On average, each year saw a 56,000 increase in disclosed requests, growing from 127,000 in 2013 to 592,000 in 2021,” the report claimed.
The overall disclosure rate in India is 55.3 percent.
Meta (the parent company of Facebook) and Google received the highest number of account requests from authorities in India, the report noted.
However, Apple complied with 82 percent of user data requests, which is the highest among all four companies.
It was followed by Meta (72 percent), Google (71 percent), and Microsoft (68 percent).
“Apple has been leading in disclosure rates since 2016, raising them from 75 percent in 2016 to 86 percent in 2021,” the report said.
Tool to tackle crime?
Surfshark’s Gabriele Kaveckyte noted that besides requesting data from technology companies, governments are now exploring more ways to monitor and tackle crime through online services.
“For instance, the EU is considering a regulation that would require internet service providers to detect, report, and remove abuse-related content,” she said.
As per the report, the US and the European Union (EU) account for around 60 percent of all accounts of interest from 2013 to 2021.
“To compare the two, the US requested more than double the accounts per 100,000 people than all the EU countries combined,” the report added.
Meanwhile, in South Asia, Pakistan (60th globally) China (65th globally) and Nepal (59th globally) requested 11.09, 6.7, and 11 per one lakh accounts.
The report added that looking at the top 10, the top five countries are from the EU. The UK, Australia and Taiwan comprise the rest.