Business

Twitter transparency report dives deeper into federal requests, but not too deep

Image Credit: Mark

Twitter released its transparency report today, unveiling how many government requests it received to disclose user information or delete accounts/tweets from countries around the world. It also released more details on requests from the U.S. government, but only as much as the U.S. government will allow.

As you might suspect, the U.S. government accounted for by far the majority of user-information requests, with 1,257. But the volume of requests from other governments is growing worldwide.

Overall, requests rose 46% in the first half of 2014. Next to the U.S. Japan makes the most requests for user information (9% of the total), which is actually down from 15% in the last report.

Saudi Arabia made 189 requests for account information, but only one percent of those resulted in some information produced.

Brazil and the United Kingdom made 77 and 79 requests respectively, excluding emergency disclosure requests.

Spain and Turkey more than doubled the number of requests, and Brazil more than tripled its requests, going from 20 in the last report to 77.

Twitter is trying to provide more information to its users than it has in the past on the nature of these requests, the company says. Earlier this year it met with the Department of Justice to carve our areas where Twitter could include more information in its bi-annual report. But after submitting a sample report to the DOJ with no response for over three months, Twitter says it’s considering its legal options.

“Specifically, if the government will not allow us to publish the actual number of requests, we want the freedom to provide that information in much smaller ranges that will be more meaningful to Twitter’s users, and more in line with the relatively small number of non-national security information requests we receive,” Jeremy Kessel Senior Manager, Global Legal Policy wrote in a blog post.

He links to a letter from the Department of Justice that outlines how Twitter may publish information about National Security Letters (read: requests). The DOJ says requests and numbers surrounding those requests (such as how many accounts were affected by NSLs) may be shown in “bands of 1000,” which Twitter insists is not meaningful data to its users because the numbers are too large.

Many companies that operate either social platforms or electronic mailing services have been walking a tight rope between appeasing the federal government and keeping their user base happy. And many are increasingly looking to back their customers. Microsoft, for example, announced two days ago that it will battle the government in court today over the issue. In a story for the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith wrote the company is, “arguing that [The federal government] can’t force American tech companies to turn over customer emails stored exclusively in company data centers in other countries.”

Perhaps most interesting is Twitter’s new U.S. Reports feature, which outlines how many emergency requests and non-emergency requests were made and discloses specific state data. Of the total number of requests made concerning U.S. account holders, 132 were emergency requests, and Twitter provided information for nearly three-quarters of all requests. The highest number of requests were for account holders in California (163), New York (123), and Virginia (92). The new data also includes details about requests, such as whether they were part of a subpoena, search warrant, or court order.

Twitter numbers

In addition to account information requests, Twitter also posted data on content-removal requests. Turkey was number one, with 186 requests for removal, with France coming in second with 108 requests. Russia, known for censorship, only made 32 requests. Collectively, Twitter removed 25 accounts and 224 tweets from the three countries; the company removed 24 additional tweets worldwide.

Twitter has come up against state officials in Turkey and Pakistan this year. In May, Twitter blocked certain Pakistani accounts and tweets considered blasphemous under local law and later reinstated those accounts and tweets. In June, the Turkish government broadly blocked access to Twitter after a link to a voice recording and transcript allegedly of President Erdogan and his son went viral on the service, according to Internet watchdog Chilling Effects.

Even though both Pakistan and Turkey later unblocked access to the site, Twitter will likely have to continue to battle with countries that have strict moral law.

More information:

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