LinkedIn’s Transparency Report About Government Requests for Member Data: First Half of 2014

September 24, 2014

The latest edition of LinkedIn’s Transparency Report was published today. It’s our semi-annual report that explains how many times over a six-month period law enforcement or other government officials asked us to provide information about one or more of our members. This version of the report includes a couple of small but meaningful changes. As we’ve emphasized in the past, our members are our top priority. We’re committed to being open and honest with you, especially when it comes to your data. That’s why we tweaked our Transparency Report this time around to add more clarity about the requests we receive and our efforts to protect member data.

When government officials ask for member information—usually through subpoenas, search warrants or court orders (read our Law Enforcement Guidelines for more information)—we review the request to see if it’s defective, too broad, or otherwise objectionable. Since we don’t comply with every request, the number of government requests we receive can be a lot higher than the number of requests we act on. Prior versions of the Transparency Report identified the total number of member accounts that were targeted in the government requests (whether we actually provided any data or not) as “Accounts Impacted.” We don’t think an account is truly “impacted” if no data is produced, so we renamed that column “Accounts Subject to Request(s).”

If any member data is provided in response to a government request (even if it’s less information than originally demanded), we consider his or her account one of the “Accounts Impacted” in a new column in this version of the Transparency Report. The “Accounts Impacted” column calculates the total number of member accounts for which we provided at least some data in response to a government request in the January through June 2014 reporting period. We plan to continue tracking that statistic going forward. Since we didn’t track it before this reporting period, it is marked as “not available” when you look at prior reporting periods.

The number of government requests for member data increased just over 60% between the second half of 2013 and first half of 2014. While that’s a significant increase, it’s not as significant as the increase in the number of member accounts these requests encompassed. We saw a 150% spike in the number of accounts subject to government requests in this reporting period, compared to the total number of accounts subject to government requests in the last five reporting periods combined (July 2011 through December 2013). We are concerned by this trend, and we will continue to object to data demands that are not narrowly focused.

Our opposition to government requests that are defective, or that cover too many member accounts, is reflected in the Transparency Report for this reporting period. Of the 1,144 accounts targeted in government data requests, data was provided for 150 accounts (roughly 13%).

As we reported in a post earlier this year, thanks to legal action that LinkedIn and other technology companies brought against the government, we are able to include some information about national security-related data requests in the Transparency Report. While we still can’t report exactly how many of those requests we receive, we can identify the range (0-249, 250-499, 500-749, etc). In this reporting period, we received between 0 and 249 national security-related requests, which addressed between 0 and 249 member accounts.

We believe transparency is good for everyone—LinkedIn, its members, and the government officials working to keep us all safe. We’ll keep trying to refine the data we provide and the format in which it’s reported and hope you continue to find it informative.