Twitter Transparency Report Shows Increase in Government Requests

Twitter’s transparency report for the last half of 2013 shows an increase in government requests for user account information and content takedowns.

Color Twitter unimpressed with the Justice Department ruling that eased a gag order on technology companies and service providers with regard to the reporting of FISA orders and National Security Letters.

Twitter released a transparency report today on government and law enforcement requests for account information, content removal, and DMCA takedown notices. While the reports show a definite increase in government requests for user account information and content, Twitter chose not to report FISA orders, which is unlike what Google, Facebook, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Yahoo did this week.

“While this agreement is a step in the right direction, these ranges do not provide meaningful or sufficient transparency for the public, especially for entities that do not receive a significant number of – or any – national security requests,” said Twitter manager of global legal policy Jeremy Kessel.

Kessel called the Justice Department ruling a step in the right direction for enhanced transparency between technology companies that manage reams of user data and their customers, but said the ranges of 1,000 requests these companies are allowed to disclose still does not provide sufficient transparency for Twitter’s liking.

“Allowing Twitter, or any other similarly situated company, to only disclose national security requests within an overly broad range seriously undermines the objective of transparency,” Kessel said. “In addition, we also want the freedom to disclose that we do not receive certain types of requests, if, in fact, we have not received any.”

Twitter and the other leading technology and services companies spent much of last summer petitioning the Obama administration and filing lawsuits seeking the right to disclose specifics on requests for customer data related to national security. Those demands were rebuffed until last week when the Justice Department, acting on a directive from the White House related to NSA surveillance changes, bent and offered companies two reporting options. The companies, in turn, dropped their related lawsuits.

The first option brings FISA reporting in line with reporting of National Security Letters in that companies will be able to report the number of FISA orders for content, non-content, as well as the number of customer accounts affected for each in bands of 1,000 requests. The reporting restrictions around National Security Letters were eased last summer and companies are allowed to similarly bundle their reporting.

Reports may be published every six months, however, reporting on national security orders issued against data collected by new company products and services must be delayed two years.

The second option allows companies to report all national security requests, NSLs or FISA orders, and the number of customer accounts affected with exact numbers up to 250 requests, and thereafter in bands of 250.

Kessel said the restrictions infringe on the companies’ First Amendment rights to free speech.

“We believe there are far less restrictive ways to permit discussion in this area while also respecting national security concerns,” he said. “Therefore, we have pressed the U.S. Department of Justice to allow greater transparency, and proposed future disclosures concerning national security requests that would be more meaningful to Twitter’s users. We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.”

As for today’s report, which excludes national security-related requests, the number of overall worldwide requests for the last two years since Twitter has published these reports has climbed 66 percent. The U.S. government accounts for 59 percent of the requests to Twitter.

For the last six months of 2013, Twitter received 1,410 account information requests, most of those related to criminal investigations; 833 of those came from the U.S. government on 1,323 accounts. Twitter complied and provided information in 69 percent of those requests. Overall, it complied with 50 percent of the requests worldwide.

Content removal requests jumped sharply to 365, up from 60 over the first six months of 2013.

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