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Twitter gives U.S. government its user data 69 percent of the time

Twitter transparency report
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Twitter complies with 69 percent of all U.S. government requests for user data, the company announced today. The revelation comes with the release of the social network’s second bi-annual Transparency Report.

During the six months between July 1 and December 31 of 2012, Twitter received 815 U.S. government requests for user data from 1,145 accounts. U.S. requests make up approximately 81 percent of the total government requests worldwide.

Of those 815 requests, more than 80 percent were issued with a subpoena or court order instead of a “probable cause” search warrant, which made up only 19 percent of data requests. Subpoenas, which lack judicial oversight, made up the bulk of the requests, at 60 percent, while court orders, which require the signature of a judge, made up 11 percent. Ten percent of requests fell into an “other” category.

Twitter’s “Guidelines for Law Enforcement” state that the company will attempt to inform users if their data has been requested. But the Transparency Report shows this is often not the case. Approximately 20 percent of government requests for Twitter user data were issued “under seal,” which means the company was legally barred from telling affected users about the requests. Another 56 percent were not under seal, but users were still not notified by Twitter because the request was either withdrawn, defective, or concerned emergency situations (when someone’s life or safety is on the line). Only 24 percent of requests resulted in users receiving notification.

While government requests for user data increased by about 17 percent, copyright notices remained far more common for Twitter, which received 3,68 notices related to copyright infringement, including takedown requests issued under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The number of copyright-related notices fell by 110 compared to the first six months of 2012.

Requests to remove particular tweets saw the greatest increase in the last six months of last year, having jumped from just six requests in the first half of 2012 to 42 requests in the second half. The jump follows a policy implemented by Twitter last year, which mandated that the company would only censor tweets in the country from which the removal request was made.

In addition to delivering the latest data, Twitter’s new Transparency Report has also been given a graphic-heavy facelift and its own website – The revamped Transparency Report comes “in celebration of” Data Privacy Day, today. Twitter’s manager of legal policy Jeremy Kessel wrote in a blog post that the company hopes the new Transparency Report will allow it to “more meaningful and accessible to the community at large.”

“We believe the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact,” wrote Kessel. “To that end, it is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests for user information and government requests to withhold content from the Internet; these growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression – and real privacy implications.”

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