Reddit hands over user data in over half of government requests

Reddit's transparency report reveals that 58 percent of US government requests for user data were accepted in 2014.

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In the name of transparency, Reddit has released a report detailing government and federal requests for data received in 2014.

Within Reddit's first-ever transparency report (.PDF), the popular link-sharing website's team says that 55 requests for user information were received in 2014 by "outside parties." The requests, which include account registration data, log data and content uploaded by users, were made by government and federal agencies.

"We take all requests for the disclosure of user information seriously. When we receive a request, we make sure it is legitimate and not overbroad, and we provide advance notice to affected users unless prohibited by a court order or where we decide delayed notice is appropriate based on clear criteria described in our privacy policy," the report states.

While Reddit was able to successfully appeal and fight back against two civil subpoenas that "sought to unmask more than a dozen anonymous users," the website produced user information for 58 percent of all overall government & civil requests and 64 percent of all US state & federal government requests for data.

In a blog post, Reddit says:

"We regularly get requests from governments and law enforcement agencies for private information about our users or to remove content or subreddits; we occasionally get formal subpoenas and legal requests from individuals. These requests are usually legitimate; we push back on any that we view as overbroad or unnecessarily invasive of privacy."

Information requests were received from state and local government agencies in 15 separate US states, and 30 percent of the civil and US federal or state government requests Reddit received included a court order prohibiting the company from informing users.

"Many government requests we receive contain demands to withhold notice from users that carry no legal weight," the report says. "We actively disregard these non-binding demands. Our goal is to give users the information they need to seek legal advice before their records are disclosed."

Reddit requires a subpoena if a government agency wants the website to share subscriber information, and a search warrant is necessary to force the company to release user private messages and deleted content. Reddit also states within the transparency report it "may produce information" in emergency circumstances, "when we believe it's necessary to prevent imminent and serious bodily harm to a person."

When Reddit is given an information request outside of the United States, the company only complies if ordered to do so by a US court.

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In the post-Snowden era, many web users are naturally concerned about the US National Security Agency (NSA)'s reach when it comes down to collecting user data. In response to these particular cases, Reddit says it has never received a National Security Letter -- an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- or any other classified request for user information. The company's report says:

"If we ever receive such a request, we would seek to let the public know it existed. Reddit supports reform of government surveillance programs and joined 86 other groups by signing an open letter to Congress in 2013."

The website also receives a number of requests to remove content or links posted by users. Reddit says it refused to remove content in 69 percent of requests received last year, which in total reached 218 requests. However, 68 requests were accepted.

Reddit plans to issue a transparency report on an annual basis.

Read on: In the enterprise

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