Twitter reports 40% increase in government data requests with US in the lead

Twitter’s latest transparency report shows governments' requests for customers’ information have increased 40% in the past six months

Twitter’s latest transparency report – designed to shine a light on government requests for customers’ information – shows a 40% increase in the past six months.

Of the 2,871 requests from governments across the world regarding data 7,144 users, Twitter said 52% of requests had received responses.

“While requests have increased in many countries, RussiaTurkey and the US stand out from the rest,” Twitter senior manager of legal policy Jeremy Kessel wrote in a blog post.

The Russian government has gone from no requests to more than 100 requests for account information since July 2014, but Twitter said it did not provide information in response to any of those requests.

Requests from Turkey – which has attempted to ban Twitter in the past – increased more than 150% to 356, but again, Twitter said it did not respond to any of those requests.

The most requests (1,622) came from the US, a 29% increase since the first half of 2014. Twitter admits to an 8% increase in the number of US requests it responded to, bringing the total to 80%.

According to the Access transparency index, more than 30 internet firms – including Google, Facebook and Yahoo – now publish regular transparency reports.

Government surveillance concerns

The move is aimed at distancing the companies from the US internet surveillance programme revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013.

"Providing this insight is simply the right thing to do, especially in an age of increasing concerns about government surveillance," said Kessel.

For the first time, Twitter has included figures covering global aggregate non-government requests via legal process for account information. This includes both civil matters and defence requests in criminal cases.

“With the exception of national security requests, this addition allows us to provide a near-complete overview of the global requests we receive for account information,” said Kessel.

However, he said transparency efforts should extend beyond information requests to provide a more comprehensive picture of government requests and company actions.

“One way we’ve tried to do that at Twitter is to publish copies of government-issued content takedown requests for public review on Chilling Effects when we take action on those demands and clearly mark any content we’re forced to withhold – a course of action we’ve followed since we first received government demands to remove content from our platform,” said Kessel.

He said that, while publishing aggregated transparency report data every six months is helpful, it is no substitute for making individual takedown orders available as they are processed.

Requests to remove content

Twitter also reported an 84% increase in government demands to remove content, with the most takedown requests coming from Turkey (477), Russia (91), and Germany (43).

In Turkey, these requests were mainly linked to claimed violations of personal rights, either for citizens or government officials.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blocked Twitter in Turkey in March 2014 after an anonymous source posted allegations of government corruption.

However, the ban was eventually overturned in the courts and the service restored.

Russia made 91 requests for the removal of content, ranging from posts promoting illegal drugs to attempts to suppress non-violent demonstration.

"We denied several requests to silence popular critics of the Russian government and other demands to limit speech about non-violent demonstration in Ukraine," said Kessel.

In August 2014, Russia passed laws placing restrictions on users of social media, reports the BBC.

Under the Russian legislation governing social networking, loggers with more than 3,000 daily readers were forced to register with the media regulator; social networks were required to retain six months' worth of data on its users; and bloggers were not allowed to remain anonymous.


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