Government Requests for Twitter User Data Continue to Grow

Type threatpost
Reporter Dennis Fisher
Modified 2015-02-10T21:24:29


The appetite for Twitter user data from governments around the world continues to grow, with the volume of such requests increasing by 40 percent in the second half of 2014. Requests from the United States government alone went up 29 percent, the company said in its latest transparency report.

Government requests for Twitter user information have grown steadily since the company first began publishing transparency reports in 2012, and the last six months of 2014 continued that trend. In that period, the company 1,622 total requests from the U.S. government, covering 3,299 accounts. The company provided some information in 80 percent of those cases. That’s nearly double the 833 such requests Twitter received from U.S. authorities in the same period in 2013, and almost 400 more than it received in the first half of 2014.

“We saw an overall increase of 40 percent in government requests for Twitter user account information since our last report,” Jerry Kessel, senior manager of group legal policy at Twitter, wrote in a post explaining the report.

The U.S. data in the report also shows that the government is using its authority to keep some of its orders secret on a more frequent basis. From January to June of last year, just 11 percent of the U.S. government’s requests for information were under seal. The most-recent data shows that 49 percent were under seal in the latter half of the 2014.

Twitter’s transparency report comes a few months after the company filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the way it restricts companies’ ability to report certain kinds of government orders. Right now, companies can only publish data on the National Security Letters they receive in groups of 1,000.

“Specifically, if the government will not allow us to publish the actual number of requests, we want the freedom to provide that information in much smaller ranges that will be more meaningful to Twitter’s users, and more in line with the relatively small number of non-national security information requests we receive. We also pressed for the ability to be specific about different kinds of national security requests and to be able to indicate ‘zero requests’ if that applies to any particular category of request,” Jeremy Kessel, senior manager of global legal policy at Twitter, said at the time the suit was filed in October.

One step Twitter has taken to provide more information is to publish the content of the removal requests it gets from various parties. The data is posted on the Chilling Effects site. Kessel said that the company plans to continue pushing for more freedom to publish data on National Security Letters and other orders.

“We will continue to fight for this cause,” he said.