Twitter: Government info requests on the rise

The company's latest transparency report shows 1,157 government information requests in the first six months of 2013, up from 1,009 in the second half of 2012 and 849 in the first half of 2012.

Governments keep wanting more and more information from Twitter.

The company's latest transparency report, now a biannual affair, shows a steady increase in information requests from governments around the world, including those for user account information, which Twitter said typically are made in connection with criminal investigations or cases. For the first six months of 2013, Twitter received 1,157 requests, up from 1,009 in the second half of 2012 and 849 in the first half of 2012.

This is Twitter's first transparency report since the explosive revelations by onetime NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the surveillance practices of the U.S. government. Twitter said that at this time it is not able to publish specific numbers regarding national security requests separately from non-secret requests, though it hopes to see that change.

"An important conversation has begun about the extent to which companies should be allowed to publish information regarding national security requests," Twitter said in a blog post Wednesday. "We have joined forces with industry peers and civil liberty groups to insist that the United States government allow for increased transparency into these secret orders."

In the first half of 2013, the U.S. continued to be the top busybody in pursuit of Twitter user data, a characteristic that Twitter attributes to the fact that it is based in California. For that just-ended six-month span, the United States accounted for 78 percent of all requests received by the microblogging service. Japan was the No. 2 requester at 8 percent of overall request, followed by the United Kingdom at 3 percent, knocking Brazil out of that spot and into fourth place.

Twitter broke down the 902 U.S. requests this way: 56 percent were tied to a subpoena, 23 percent to a search warrant, 11 percent to a court order, and 10 percent to other legal processes. The company said that it provided information for two-thirds of those requests, pretty much the same as in the preceding six months .

From January to June of this year, Twitter received requests from 26 different governments, up about 15 percent from the six-month period of July to December 2012.

Twitter also said that it has seen a surge in requests to withhold content. "Over the last six months, we have gone from withholding content in two countries to withholding content (ranging from hate speech to defamation) in seven countries. We have also un-withheld content for the first time during this period."

It explained that governments make requests to remove or withhold content that may be illegal in their respective jurisdictions, such as defamatory statements, as was the case with a series of anti-Semitic tweets in France. Earlier this year, French courts said that Twitter must hand over the names of the people behind those tweets.

This story has been updated throughout the morning with additional details from Twitter's transparency report.

About the author

Jonathan Skillings is managing editor of CNET News, based in the Boston bureau. He's been with CNET since 2000, after a decade in tech journalism at the IDG News Service, PC Week, and an AS/400 magazine. He's also been a soldier and a schoolteacher, and will always be a die-hard fan of jazz, the brassier the better.

 

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