Belgium continues to request massive amounts of user data from Big Tech

Belgium continues to request massive amounts of user data from Big Tech
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Belgium’s federal and local authorities, as well as law enforcement agencies, continue to request massive amounts of information about its citizens, frequently sending requests to Big Tech companies for user data, Dutch cybersecurity Surfshark concludes in its latest report.

In total, the Belgian Government requested information on 316.7 social media accounts per 100,000 citizens in 2013-2021, ranking eighth globally for the number of requests made by the government to tech companies. In the last nine years, the government pulled information on 36,683 user accounts. Belgium requests more than four times more user data than the global average.

The Belgian government’s hunger for user data has only increased in recent years. In 2020-2021, authorities requested information about an additional 68.7 accounts per 100,000 citizens, mostly from companies such as Meta (Facebook) and Google. 79.7% of requests made by Belgium to these companies were accepted.

This is part of a wider global trend of growing interest from national governments on the data of their citizens. Countries requested information on more than 6.6 million accounts in 2013-2021. Apple was the corporation most likely to accept requests for information (82%), compared to Meta, Google, and Microsoft (72%, 71%, and 68%, respectively).

Governments reaching too far?

Requests to pull info from accounts are typically done in connection with criminal investigations, searches for missing persons, or suspicions of extremist activity. But authorities are even looking for new avenues to use data to prevent crime. The European Commission even previously made a proposal to bypass data requests, instead installing client-side scanning on user devices, effectively killing off end-to-end encryption.

“Besides requesting data from technology companies, authorities 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,” said Gabriele Kaveckyte, Privacy Counsel at Surfshark.

This increased government intervention into the cyber landscape has raised some serious questions among online privacy advocates. Groups like the US-based Electronic Frontier Association, composed of grassroots digital-rights advocacy groups, are urging authorities to be more transparent about their use of citizens’ data.

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Kaveckyte says that the new proposals from the EU on data use could “help solve serious criminal cases”, but that citizens’ rights groups are concerned of the potential misuse of the EU’s new legal arsenal.

“Civil society organisations expressed their concerns of encouraging surveillance techniques which may later be used, for example, to track down political rivals,” the cybersecurity expert concluded.

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