Twitter ‘transparency report’: U.S. government tops user data requests

Twitter 'transparency report': U.S. government tops user data requests

Of the 849 requests for user information made to Twitter so far this year, nearly 80 percent came from the U.S. government, according to a new “transparency report” released by the micro-blogging platform this afternoon.

Between January 1, 2012, and June 30, the U.S. government issued 679 requests for data pertaining to 948 Twitter users. Of those, Twitter complied 78 percent of the time. The second most active government in terms of user data requests was Japan, with 98 individual requests on 147 users. The United Kingdom and Canada tied for third, having filed 11 requests on 12 and 11 individual users, respectively. All other countries issued fewer than 10 such requests.

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“We’ve received more government requests in the first half of 2012, as outlined in this initial dataset, than in the entirety of 2011,” wrote Jeremy Kessel, manager of legal policy at Twitter, in a blog post.

Inspired by Google’s Transparency Report, Twitter’s version seeks to “shed more light on” three key areas: government requests for user data, government censorship attempts, and DCMA takedown notices. Twitter also wants to inform users “whether or not we take action on these requests.”

The U.S. government’s attempts to gain information from Web services appear to be on the rise overall. Google revealed in June that requests for private user data jumped a whopping 37 percent during the second half of 2011, from 5,950 requests for information concerning 11,057 individuals during the first six months of last year, to 6,192 requests for data on 12,243 individuals in the second six months of the year.

The launch of Twitter’s transparency report follows the company’s announcement that it would begin to censor individual tweets in countries whose governments require it to do so by law. While some saw the policy as a win for greater censorship, Twitter (and your author) maintained that, because these censored tweets would only be hidden from users in the country where they were censored (rather than the whole world, as was the case previously), its effect was actually the opposite — less censorship overall, not more.

That policy was accompanied by a new partnership with watchdog website ChillingEffects.org, where Twitter posts the details of every government request it receives. In today’s announcement. Twitter reveal a new-found partnership with Heredict, which “collects and disseminates real-time, crowdsourced information about Internet filtering, denial of service attacks, and other blockages.” Kessel says its partnership with Heredict “aims to drive more traffic and exposure to Herdict, while also empowering the web community at large to help keep an eye on whether users can access Twitter around the world.”

Those of you interested in exploring Twitter’s transparency report further can do so here.

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