Twitter sues U.S. government over sharing limits on transparency report data
Twitter sues U.S. government over sharing limits on transparency report data

In its sixth transparency report, Twitter has again attributed the majority of information requests it's received, or 56 percent, to U.S. authorities.

From July to December, U.S. authorities issued 1,622 information requests that impacted 3,299 accounts, the report said. This represents a 29 percent uptick in requests from the previous report. Twitter's compliance with the requests also increased by eight percent.

Although Twitter complied with 80 percent of requests, Nate Cardozo, staff attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), noted that this high percentage wasn't a negative thing. In fact, he said in an interview with SCMagazine.com, this data point really means that Twitter didn't comply with one in five requests, a move it only uses if a request is illegal.

"We as Americans deserve law enforcement agents to do better than one in five," he said. "Our police and intelligence agents need to be doing a better job."

The majority of the requests came from California, Virginia, and New York. Fifty-seven percent of the requests received pertained to subpoenas, a legal process that does not require a judge's sign-off and typically impacts user email addresses and IP logs.

Twenty-three percent of the requests involved search warrants, which if executed, could require the disclosure of the contents of communications, including tweets and direct messages.

Affected users were not notified of requests pertaining to their accounts in up to 89 percent cases, and Patrick Toomey, staff attorney, National Security Project under the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in an emailed comment to SCMagazine.com that although the report itself was a commendable endeavor, as well as Twitter's scrutiny of the government, the high percentage of users with no information about their requests was worrisome.

"The new report highlights, however, the growing scale of these requests, and the small fraction of Twitter users who are notified when the government demands their information," he wrote. "Companies like Twitter should ensure that their users have the opportunity to challenge government demands for their data, and that gag orders imposed by the government remain in place no longer than necessary.”

The new report, issued on Monday, saw a general global increase in government requests of 40 percent. The company noted that Russia, in particular, warranted attention for its 108 requests. Twitter had never received a request from the country previous to this reporting period. No information was provided for those requests.

“As more companies consider publishing or expanding their own reports, we strongly encourage them to join us and our peers at Google, Vimeo, WordPress and Wikimedia in publishing government removal demands,” Twitter wrote in its report's blog post. “The global community deserves this level of transparency from its governments and its service providers.”

Although Twitter's U.S. compliance rate increased this year, the company is often heralded as a privacy defendant, particularly because of the fights it has taken on in defense of its users.

The company filed a lawsuit in October, for example, over its belief that the U.S. government violated its First Amendment rights by limiting the information that it could report in its transparency reports.