Kenya government demands Facebook data on Kenyan users

A picture taken on August 28, 2019 shows the logo of US online social media and social networking service, Facebook displayed on a tablet in Lille. (Photo credit should read DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook says on five separate occasions during the first half of 2019 that Kenyan government officials demanded private information about Kenyan users.

According to the latest transparency report from Facebook, in four of the five times, the government refused to use proper legal channels while demanding the information, insisting on the urgency of the demand. Facebook complied with at least one of the demands. The social networking giant, however, did not give details of the nature of the information the government demanded. It also did not disclose the identity of accounts that the State had targeted.

The report also reveals that the government asked Facebook to preserve account information for seven users in the period under review. Facebook said it accepts requests from governments to preserve account information only when an assurance that a proper legal process will be followed before the information is revealed is made.

“When we receive a preservation request, we will preserve a temporary snapshot of the relevant account information, but will not disclose any of the preserved records unless a formal legal process is initiated,” the social media giant said.

This is not the first time the Kenyan government ordered Facebook to reveal Kenyans’ information. In 2018, one such request was made. Government data requests from tech companies usually increase during election periods. In 2017, for example, the government filed eight requests with Facebook. Only two were filed legally. In 2013, the State similarly asked Google on eight occasions to hand over personal data of 11 Gmail accounts.

Facebook responds to government requests for data in accordance with applicable laws and its terms of service. The company also says that it often rejects requests or demands greater specificity on requests that appear overly broad or vague.

The data request revelations raise concerns that the government is targeting social media users in a growing attempt to stifle freedom of expression online. Lawmakers are currently considering a bill that ordering bloggers be registered and regulated by the Communications Authority of Kenya.

Those that don’t comply face fines of up to Sh500,000 or prison for two years.