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Twitter Transparency Report reveals 40 percent increase in government prying

07 Feb 2014

Twitter was hit with more than 2,500 government requests for user account data last year, an increase of 38 percent since 2012.

Twitter posted its fourth Transparency Report on Thursday, revealing it was asked 1,410 times during the past six months of 2013 to share account information with governments, up from 849 requests from January to June 2012, when it published its first report.

Over the past two years, Twitter has received requests from the governments of 46 different countries. Unsurprisingly, the US government is at the top of the list, racking up 833 requests concerning 1,323 user accounts from July to December 2013, with requests for information granted in 69 percent of cases.

More surprising is Japan’s position as the second most demanding country on the list, making 213 requests, which led to Twitter account details being handed over in 23 percent of cases. France came third, with 57 requests and a similarly low success rate of 23 percent.

The UK government was slightly less interested in prying into Twitter users’ musings, coming fourth on the list. The UK asked for data 56 times, relating to 117 accounts, and received information in 43 percent of cases. Technically Saudi Arabia should be third, as it made 110 requests, but these were all emergency requests, which Twitter counts separately.

The US has always been top of the chart: for the first six months of 2012, it made 679 requests, compared to only 11 from the UK government. Overall, the US has made 59 percent of all requests for Twitter account information.

The vast majority of countries listed have made fewer than 10 requests, including China. For such an authoritarian country, it might seem surprising that the Chinese government is not bombarding Twitter with more demands for user data – but this is more likely due to the fact that the social media tool is blocked in China than the authorities deciding to leave Twitter users to their own devices.

While governments are increasingly keen on getting access to Twitter user accounts, they spent less time asking the firm to remove information posted on the site. In the past two years, Twitter received 473 requests to take down data such as defamatory statements or prohibited material, either from a court order, the police or a government agency. However, this activity has ramped up recently, with 365 of these requests coming in the last six months of 2013.

On publishing the report, Twitter took the opportunity to call on the US government again to allow technology firms more transparency over information disclosures.

Twitter’s global legal policy manager Jeremy Kessel noted: “We think it is essential for companies to be able to disclose numbers of national security requests of all kinds – including national security letters and different types of FISA court orders – separately from reporting on all other requests. Allowing Twitter, or any other similarly situated company, to only disclose national security requests within an overly broad range seriously undermines the objective of transparency.

“Unfortunately, we are currently prohibited from providing this level of transparency. We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs.”

Kessel added that while the firm has already pressed the US Department of Justice to allow greater transparency, it is also considering legal options “to defend our First Amendment rights”.

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Madeline Bennett

Madeline Bennett is editor of V3 and The INQUIRER. Previously, she was editor of IT Week. Prior to becoming a journalist, Madeline was an English teacher at a London secondary school. Madeline is a regular technology commentator on TV and radio, including Sky, BBC and CNN. 

View Madeline's Google+ profile

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