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Twitter wants more transparency on government data requests

Warwick Ashford

Twitter is considering legal action to gain greater freedom to reveal details about government requests for user data.

Twitter's announcement came a week after an alliance of US technology companies won the right to reveal more details about government data requests.

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Twitter says the agreement reached with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to disclose national security requests in very large ranges does not provide meaningful or sufficient transparency for the public.

The microblogging service wants to be able to disclose numbers of national security requests of all kinds, including controversial national security letters.

“For the disclosure of national security requests to be meaningful to our users, it must be within a range that provides sufficient precision to be meaningful,” said Jeremy Kessel, manager of global legal policy.

“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,” Kessel wrote in a blog post.

According to Kessel, the remaining restrictions unfairly affects Twitter users’ privacy and violates the firm’s First Amendment right to free expression and the open discussion of government affairs.

“We believe there are far less restrictive ways to permit discussion in this area while also respecting national security concerns,” he wrote.

Twitter has asked the DoJ to allow greater transparency, and has proposed future disclosures concerning national security requests that would be more meaningful to Twitter’s users.

“We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights,” Kessel wrote.

Surge in government demands

He notes that Twitter’s latest transparency report includes two years of data covering global government requests for account information (excluding US national security requests), worldwide requests to withhold content, and copyright takedown and counter notices.

The report shows a steady increase in information requests since Twitter’s first transparency report in 2012.

Over the past 24 months, the report said Twitter has received a 66% increase in requests for account information coming from more than 45 different countries affecting over 6,400 accounts around the world.

Most global government requests for account information still come from the US government (59%), followed by Japan (15%) and Saudi Arabia (8%).


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