Twitter Info Requests From Governments Jumped in 2012 Second Half

According to Twitter's transparency report, 69 percent of government requests for information came from entities in the United States.

Twitter fielded nearly 20 percent more requests for information from governments around the world in the second half of 2012 than it did during the first.

According to its latest transparency report, the number of information requests jumped 19 percent to 1,009 between July and December from 849 during the previous six months. Some 815 of the requests in the second half of the year came from the United States government. Twitter responded either fully or partially with 69 percent of those requests, compared with 57 percent overall.

"We believe the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact," blogged Jeremy Kessel, manager of legal policy at Twitter. "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."

Twitter's transparency report is modeled after the one Google released. Since 2009, Google has seen user data requests of all kinds go up more than 70 percent, according to its latest report. All totaled, the company received 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users during the second half of 2012. When it comes to the U.S., 8,438 requests were made by the government involving 14,791 users.

Both Twitter and Google added a new layer of information about requests coming from government entities in the U.S. In the case of Google, 68 percent of the requests from the U.S. government were through subpoenas. Twenty-two percent were through Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) search warrants. The rest were mostly court orders issued under ECPA.

In the case of Twitter, 60 percent of information requests from U.S. entities came from subpoenas. Some 19 percent came from search warrants, while 11 percent were from court orders. Roughly 20 percent of the government information requests were made under seal.

"As noted in our Guidelines for Law Enforcement, Twitter’s policy is to notify users of requests for their account information unless we are prohibited from doing so by law or in an emergency situation," according to the report, which noted that 24 percent of the requests prompted user notification.

There were also some instances where the user was not notified because the request was withdrawn prior to any disclosure or because there was some problem with the request, such as improper jurisdiction or an invalid Twitter user name.

The number of removal requests jumped from six to 42, while the number of copyright takedown notices fell from 3,378 to 3,268. The biggest reporter of copyright takedown notices (199) was Web Sheriff, an anti-piracy company based in the U.K. The Recording Industry Association of America was responsible for 120 such notices.

"It's our continued hope that providing greater insight into this information helps in at least two ways: first, to raise public awareness about these invasive requests; second, to enable policy makers to make more informed decisions," Kessel blogged. "All of our actions are in the interest of an open and safe Internet."