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Global surveillance is increasing, with governments requesting almost 40 per cent more user data from Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft during 2020 than in the year before.

According to a report from privacy firm Surfshark, the US topped the list, with nearly two million user accounts affected since 2013 and 469,000 in 2020 alone. This represents a little over 585 accounts per 100,000 population.

Second on the list was Germany, with 489 requests per 100,000, followed by the UK, with 486. Singapore and France round out the top five.

“The massive growth of online crime in 2020 went hand-in-hand with the increase in data requests that Big Tech companies received,” says Agneska Sablovskaja, lead researcher at Surfshark.

“Globally, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic saw a staggering year-over-year growth of accounts requested for government surveillance from 0.9 million to 1.3 million. This could be attributed to everything moving online, including crime.”

On average, the companies complied with 70 per cent of user data requests between 2013 and 2020. Apple, though, has been something of an outlier, with the highest disclosure rate since 2016, and is currently handing over data to the authorities in 85 per cent of cases.

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Facebook’s disclosure rate peaked at nearly 75 per cent in 2017, but has now dropped slightly to 73 per cent. Google’s disclosure rate hit 76 per cent in 2020; meanwhile, Microsoft’s has been fallong throughout the whole eight-year period, with the company now complying with the fewest requests of all four companies.

In the UK, the disclosure rate grew by 140 per cent between 2013 and 2020 to 81 per cent, meaning that over the eight-year period, companies disclosed data of around 267,000 accounts.

Just a few days ago, Twitter – not featured in the Surfshark report – revealed in its transparency report that it experienced its highest-ever number of government data requests between July 1 2021 and December 31 2021.

Nearly half a million requests were made, relating to nearly 200,000 accounts, with India, Turkey, Russia and Pakistan making the most requests.

“We continue to see a concerning trend toward attempts to limit global press freedom, with an increase in government legal demands targeting journalists, as well as an overall increasing number of legal demands on accounts,” warns the company in a blog post.

“This update comes at a time when government requests for account information and content removal continually hit new records, including demands to reveal the identity of anonymous account owners. This is why we continue to advocate for greater transparency from governments themselves about how these powers are used.”

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