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Facebook, Microsoft Reveal Requests For User Data

Facebook and Microsoft Corp. say the government has given them permission to reveal orders they've received to hand over user data, but that they are still prevented from giving anything other than very broad figures.

Facebook says it received 9,000 to 10,000 requests during the last six months of 2012, while Microsoft says it got 6,000 to 7,000 requests, affecting as many as 32,000 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," Facebook general counsel Ted Ullyot said in a blog post late Friday.

"The total number of Facebook user accounts for which data was requested pursuant to the entirety of those 9-10 thousand requests was between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts," Ullyot said. He compared that to the 1.1 billion Facebook accounts worldwide, saying the requests affected "a tiny fraction of one percent" of the social media giant's users.

John Frank, Microsoft's deputy general counsel, wrote in a similar blog post that the requests it had received impact only "a tiny fraction of Microsoft's global customer base."

Among other things, Microsoft owns the Hotmail email service.

As NPR's Jim Zarroli reported earlier this week, companies like Facebook and Microsoft are very much caught in the middle of the current debate about national security and privacy.

And both Ullyot and Frank expressed frustration with the limitations on what they were allowed to reveal to their customers and the public.

"In light of continued confusion and inaccurate reporting related to this issue, we've advocated for the ability to say even more," Ullyot wrote.

Frank said Microsoft believes "that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues."

Both companies said they remain involved in discussions with the government to gain permission to publish more specific data.

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