Most Twitter information requests from US government

Company publishes latest transparency report, outlining requests for information

A portrait of former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is displayed behind a screen as he answers users’ questions on Twitter. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

A portrait of former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is displayed behind a screen as he answers users’ questions on Twitter. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Thu, Feb 6, 2014, 16:51

Twitter has published its latest transparency report, outlining the requests for information and content removal.

The latest report covers the six-month period between June and December 2013, and includes 46 countries. The information requests are from governments seeking account information, and are typically in connection with criminal investigations.

Twitter said there had been a 66 per cent increase in requests for account information over the past two years, impacting over 6,400 accounts.

However, Twitter is seeking permission to disclose numbers of national security requests of all kinds separately from reporting on all other requests.

“Last week, the US department of justice and various communications providers reached an agreement allowing disclosure of national security requests in very large ranges,” Twitter said. “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.”

Over the six-month period to December 2013, the largest number of requests for information came from the US, with 833 documented. Twitter said it produced some information relating to these requests in 69 per cent of the cases.

That was followed by Japan, with more than 200 requests, and Saudi Arabia with 110 requests, which were classed as “emergency disclosure requests”. These requests are those where Twitter believes there is “exigent emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury to a person”.

The UK, meanwhile, put in 56 requests for information, less than half of which yielded information.

Ireland did not submit any requests for information in the six months. In fact, only a small number of requests came from Ireland over the two-year period from January 2012, with less than 10 received by the company in the six month period between July and December 2012 and a similar number between January and June 2013. Only one content removal request was received in the two year period, according to the report.

Separately, Twitter announced today it was beginning a pilot project that would see a handful of research institutions handed access to the company’s public and historical data that could help yield insights into anything from global events to where flu outbreaks may hit.

More than 500 million updates are posted to Twitter every day, providing researchers with a large amount of public data from which they could gather information.

“To date, it has been challenging for researchers outside the company who are tackling big questions to collaborate with us to access our public, historical data,” the company said in a statement. “Our data grants programme aims to change that by connecting research institutions and academics with the data they need.”

The company is currently accepting proposals for a limited number of institutions to take part in the trial and receive the data free of charge. Those selected will also be able to collaborate with Twitter engineers and researchers.