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Governments’ requests for Twitter data on the rise

Micro-blogging firm’s transparency report shows 36% year-on-year surge

Twitter said information requests from governments had shown a marked increase.
Twitter said information requests from governments had shown a marked increase.

Requests from governments for Twitter users' personal information has risen 36% in the first half of 2013 when compared with the same period in 2012, according to the bi-annual Twitter Transparency Report.

The 1,157 information requests also represent a 14.7% rise on the previous period. Twitter said its policy was to inform a user if any request was made regarding their account.

The US remains the most prolific requester, accounting for almost 78% of all requests made. Second-place Japan was responsible for 7.5%. Middle East governments were surprisingly under-represented. According to the report, the only Middle East counties to have made requests were Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, both of which made 10.

Not all requests for information were granted. Some two thirds of applications lodged by the US resulted in some or all of the sought information being divulged, while Saudi and Kuwait received none of the information requested by their governments.

The Twitter Transparency Report covers three main areas: government requests for personal data, usually involving email addresses and/or IP addresses of tweeters; Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests; and other takedown requests, which amount to attempts at public censorship of tweets. According to Twitter, this last category of request has also been on the rise.

Takedown requests can come through court orders, or direct applications from a public body, such as a ministry or police department. The requests worldwide were relatively few for the period, numbering 60, according to the report. The Russian Federation made the most applications, with 17, followed by Brazil with 10. But Twitter characterised the rise as sharp, given that in the same period last year there were only six requests worldwide to invoke Twitter's Country Withheld Content (CWC) tool.

"Over the last six months, we have gone from withholding content in two countries to withholding content in seven countries," Twitter legal policy manager Jeremy Kessel told Reuters.

The bi-yearly reports issued by Twitter do not include secret requests for information such as those that may be issued under the US Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA). Initial reports of the Edward Snowden affair - where the NSA contractor leaked information about US government surveillance programmes - suggested that Twitter had not participated in project Prism, named by Snowden as an information-gathering collaboration between US intelligence operatives and prominent Internet services companies, such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Google. However, insiders at the time said it was inevitable that the micro-blogging service would be recruited.