twitter transparency
August 3, 2014

Twitter Releases Fifth Transparency Report

Eric Hopton for - Your Universe Online

Twitter recently published its fifth Transparency Report but has done so, as in all previous reports, without detailed information about national security requests. This is in spite of repeated attempts by the company to obtain agreement with government agencies to share the missing data.

Twitter claims it is fighting for more transparency. In a recent blog, Jeremy Kessel, Senior Manager at Twitter’s Global and Legal Policy department said, “We aim to provide more meaningful and constructive insight into the global government and copyright requests we receive, and their respective impact.” As Kessel points out, global requests for “account information, content removal, and copyright takedowns” have increased steadily with each annual report.

The six month period between January and June of this year saw Twitter receive a total of 2,058 requests for account information from 54 countries. This represents a 46 percent increase on the same period last year. By comparison, Facebook received 12,000 such requests in the last six months of 2013 and Google over 30,000 in the same period. There were 438 (up 14 percent) Twitter content removal requests from 36 countries. Combined Twitter and Vine copyright takedown requests were up 38 percent at 9,199. For the first time Twitter is providing exact numbers for all data categories and in the US is breaking the information down into individual state/territory data sets.

Twitter is keen to be seen as an open and transparent site but is apparently frustrated at what it sees as a key element to the data that is still missing. As much as 60 percent of account user information requests received by companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google are from US government agencies including National Security Letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court requests. But they are not allowed, under current legislation, to publish exact numbers or stipulate which particular agencies are asking for the data, only broad indications in the ranges 1,000 or 250, dependent on the category of data in question.

In early 2014, Twitter representatives met with US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) officials in Washington to seek the ability to “provide greater transparency concerning national security requests.” More specifically, Twitter wanted an end to the ban on providing actual numbers and also asked to be allowed to give precise information about the types of requests received. Permission was also sought to identify where there were “zero requests” in individual categories. No satisfactory agreement was reached at the meeting and as a result, in April, Twitter sent a draft Transparency Report to the DOJ. The report included national security request information and Twitter asked the DOJ to indicate what parts of the report were classified or could not be legally published. As no reply was forthcoming from the DOJ prior to publication of the latest Transparency Report, any potentially sensitive information was left out of the figures. Twitter states that they are “disappointed with the DOJ’s inaction and goes on to say “we are weighing our legal options to provide more transparency to our users”. Progress looks likely to be slow and, in the interim, Twitter welcomes the latest version of the US FREEDOM Act of 2014 which aims to reform how government surveillance data is gathered and used.