Government Demands Growing for Twitter User Data

In its first ever transparency report, Twitter reported Monday that the United States leads the pack when it comes to government demands for user data, having filed 679 requests in the first half of the year.

Twitter Transparency Report

Worldwide, Twitter said it has received more government demands for data in the first six months of this year than all of last year.

In Twitter’s Transparency Report, it said it has complied with 75 percent of user-data disclosure demands by producing “some or all information” requested by U.S. authorities. Globally, the average was 63 percent.

Data previous to 2012 was not available. Twitter said it notifies its users of government demands “unless prohibited by law.”

The closest country behind the United States was Japan, which lodged 98 requests with a 20 percent Twitter compliance rate. The United Kingdom and Canada came in with 11 requests, with an 18 percent compliance rate. All of the other countries in the 23-nation Twitter report registered with less than 10 government demands.

“We’ve received more government requests in the first half of 2012, as outlined in this initial dataset, than in the entirety of 2011,” Twitter said on its blog.

The disclosure follows Google’s lead — nearly two years ago, when the search giant turned heads by publishing a treasure trove of data surrounding government demands for user data, in addition to information on the number of takedown notices connected to copyright infringement.

“Wednesday marks Independence Day here in the United States. Beyond the fireworks and barbecue, July 4th serves as an important reminder of the need to hold governments accountable, especially on behalf of those who may not have a chance to do so themselves,” Twitter said.

The Twitter report came the same day a New York state judge ordered the San Francisco-based microblogging site to divulge the tweets and account information allegedly connected to an Occupy protester.

Twitter did not say whether, at least in the United States, the authorities presented probable-cause warrants for user data. Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr.’s ruling Monday did not require local prosecutors to have probable cause to get the tweets and accompanying account information of an Occupy protester.

The company, however, listed a few reasons why it does not acquiesce to all government-issued, user-data requests.

“We do not comply with requests that fail to identify a Twitter user account. We may seek to narrow requests that are overly broad. In other cases, users may have challenged the requests after we’ve notified them,” Twitter said. Most famously, Twitter successfully fought to allow individuals being investigated for their connections to WikiLeaks to challenge requests for their Twitter data.

In a separate reporting category, Twitter said it received 3,378 requests to remove copyrighted material from Twitter in the United States for the first half of the year. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires internet service providers to remove works, at the copyright holder’s request, to avoid legal liability.

Overall, Twitter said it removed 38 percent of the material specified in the takedown requests. Among other reasons, Twitter said it does not comply with all requests because sometimes they “fail to provide sufficient information” or were “misfiled.”

Twitter also reported that it did not comply with any of the handful of requests from France, Greece, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Kingdom to remove content that is illegal in those nations.

Twitter’s not the first to follow Google’s transparency lead – Dropbox, LinkedIn, SpiderOak and SonicNet beat Twitter to it.

Among those who ought to be next: Facebook, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Yahoo, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Microsoft.