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Government surveillance: Belgium requests 270% more user data than the global average

15:50 04/08/2022

The Belgian government asks Big Tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft to hand over 270% more user data than the global average, according to new research from cybersecurity company Surfshark.

That puts Belgium at ninth place worldwide when it comes to government surveillance based on the number of online accounts requested by authorities (248 accounts per 100,000 people) over the study’s seven-year time period, in comparison to neighbours Germany (second place with 489 per 100,000) and France (fifth with 431 per 100,000).

Of the top 10 globally, five countries are from the EU. The US came in first place and the UK, Australia, Singapore, and Taiwan round out the list.

There are a number of different reasons why governments request user data from Big Tech companies, but it often comes down to investigating crime.

“The massive growth of online crime in 2020 went hand-in-hand with the increase in data requests that Big Tech companies received,” said 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.”

All 177 researched countries requested more than five million accounts combined from 2013 to 2020, with a spike during the first year of the pandemic.

Microsoft and Facebook received the highest number of requested accounts by authorities, and US and EU authorities requested nearly two-thirds of all accounts of interest from 2013 to 2020 compared to other regions of the world.

Companies increasingly agree to hand over data

Requesting user info from Big Tech companies doesn’t necessarily result in the information being handed over: the overall data disclosure rate in Belgium was 80%.

Globally, from 2013 to 2020, the number of disclosed requests grew by almost 280%, with Apple leading the way: their disclosure rate rose from 75% in 2016 to 85% in 2020.

Rates for Microsoft, Facebook and Google ranged from 69% to 72%.

Global trends show that government surveillance is growing, according to Surfshark.

“The number of accounts requested globally increased more than four times from 2013 to 2020, with 2020 seeing the most significant year-over-year increase of almost 40%,” the cybersecurity company said in its report.

“Belgium shows the same trend, with a 176% (threefold) increase from 2013 to 2020. This is over 28,000 accounts during these eight years. Requested accounts grew by 38% in 2020 compared to 2019.”

Written by Helen Lyons