U.S. Government Requested Info on More Than 1,300 Twitter Accounts

Seventy-Eight percent of all requests worldwide came from the U.S. government, Twitter said.

By Kyle Bonagura
|  Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013  |  Updated 5:04 PM EDT
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Twitter Transparency Report Shows Rise in Information Requests

AFP/Getty Images

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The United States government requested information on 1,319 Twitter accounts in 902 separate requests over a six-month period, according to a transparency report released by Twitter on Wednesday.

The requests were mostly for basic information such as e-mail addresses and IP addresses, Twitter said. Twenty-five countries submitted such requests in the first six months of 2013, but none more than the United States.

The San Francisco-based social media giant fielded 1,157 requests total during the six-month period, 148 more than the final six months of 2012. Once again, the vast majority -- 78 percent -- came from the United States government.

The report does not detail specific numbers related to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests, despite Twitter’s preference for that data to be included.

“An important conversation has begun about the extent to which companies should be allowed to publish information regarding national security requests,” wrote Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s legal policy manager, on the company blog. “We have joined forces with industry peers and civil liberty groups to insist that the United States government allow for increased transparency into these secret orders.”

“We believe it’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests – including FISA disclosures – separately from non-secret requests. Unfortunately, we are still not able to include such metrics.”

Of the 902 requests in the United States, 67 percent led to at least at least some information being released. Most of those requests came via subpoenas (56%), while search warrants (23%) and court orders (11%) were the other most frequently used legal processes.

When a request is submitted by subpoena, it usually does not require a judge’s sign-off and “usually seeks basic subscriber information, such as the email address associated with an account and IP logs,” Twitter said.

To obtain the disclosure of content such as tweets or direct (private) messages, the requesting agency is required to produce a warrant signed by a judge.

In its terms of service, Twitters states its policy is “to notify users of requests for their information prior to disclosure unless we are prohibited from doing so by statute or court order.” Twenty percent of the requests came "under seal," which prevented Twitter from notifying the effected users about the request.  

In 61 percent of cases, users were not notified despite the request not coming under seal for various reasons, including the request being withdrawn, defective requests and those that came in emergency, time-sensitive situations.

In compliance with its terms of service, Twitter notified 19 percent of the users effected by information requests.

Removal requests, copyright notices and additional information were also included in the report.

Following the United States, Japan (87), the United Kingdom (26), Brazil (22), Italy (22) and France (18) made the most information requests.

Follow @KyleBonagura on Twitter

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