US Government Behind Most Twitter Data Requests
August 1, 2013

US Government Behind Most Twitter Data Requests

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Twitter released its semiannual transparency report yesterday and revealed that the US government is responsible for 78 percent of all the requests for data the micro-blogging site receives.

According to Gerry Shih at Reuters, governments are most often looking for emails or IP addresses associated with accounts when they make these pleas to Twitter. Requests from all countries have been increasing in recent years, up to a total of 1,157 since January 1, 2013. Only 849 of these types of requests were made during the same period last year.

According to the previous report, which covers the period between July 1 and December 31, 2012, the US government made only 815 requests for user information. Since the first of the year the government has made 902 requests for user data; 67 percent of these requests were granted with some or all information produced. There were 1,319 users or specific accounts specified in these appeals, the majority of which were accompanied by subpoenas.

Though Twitter and other companies release transparency reports on a regular basis, the most recent report comes at a time when US citizens are particularly concerned about government spying. Yesterday it was revealed the NSA has access to more information than previously understood, including real-time access to phone calls, emails, online chats and more. According to Twitter, however, all governments are increasing the amount of requests they make for data.

"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," Jeremy Kessel, Twitter's legal policy manager, explained in a statement to Reuters.

According to the transparency report, Twitter is most often censored in Brazil; a total of 39 Tweets were removed following nine different court orders.

Of the US government's 902 pleas for user information since January, 67 percent were returned with data. Some countries who made fewer than ten requests for data received all the information they asked for. Countries such as Ecuador and Ireland, for instance, made fewer than 10 requests for information on specific users and accounts, each of which were filled.

"Governments generally make removal requests for content that may be illegal in their respective jurisdictions," reads the report. "For example, we may receive a court order requiring the removal of defamatory statements, or law enforcement may ask us to remove prohibited content."

While the US made the lion's share of total requests, Japan and the UK were next in line, with eight percent and three percent of the requests, respectively.

More information about the NSA's surveillance programs was released yesterday by way of official governmental documents and a leaked slide from former agent Edward Snowden. According to three heavily redacted documents from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NSA has full access to chats, emails and phone calls between millions of Americans.

Though it claims only specialized and highly trained individuals can view this information, the majority of this data is allegedly never reviewed. The agency later claimed the technology professionals responsible for maintaining its network and the stores of this data could find a way to access it.

The NSA continues to claim that its surveillance programs are only used to further national security and keep an eye on "legitimate foreign intelligence targets."