State demands Kenyans' data from Facebook

State demands Kenyans' data from Facebook. [Photo: Courtesy]

The government demanded that social networking service company Facebook reveal private information about Kenyan users on five different occasions in the first half of 2019. 

According to the latest transparency report from Facebook, in four of the five times, the State 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.

“Facebook responds to government requests for data in accordance with applicable laws and our terms of service,” Facebook said in a statement. 

“Each request we receive is carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency. We may reject or demand greater specificity on requests that appear overly broad or vague.”

Seven users

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 government is making demands to the social network platform 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.

Freedom of expression

Kenya has one of the most vibrant online communities.

The data request revelations raise concerns that the government is targeting social media users in a growing attempt to stifle freedom of expression online. 

Currently, proposed amendments to the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2019 are due for the second reading in parliament.

This is despite widespread condemnation from several industry players that the law will limit freedom of expression. 

The bill wants bloggers to be registered and regulated by the Communications Authority of Kenya. If they don't comply, they will be fined Sh500,000 or go to prison for two years.