Twitter sees more govts requesting user info

Twitter's first Transparency Report shows more governments requesting user info within first half of 2012 than entire 2011, with U.S. and Japan topping list.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor and  Michael Lee, Contributor

Twitter has issued its first Transparency Report revealing it received more government requests in the first half of 2012 than the whole of last year.

The microblogging site received 849 government requests for user information since Jan. 1, 2012, it said in a blog post Monday.

The U.S. and Japanese governments made the most requests for user information in the last six months. Twitter said it did not always provide the information, and when it did, it attempted to notify the user if it is legally permitted to do so.

The U.S. government asked for data on 948 Twitter accounts, and Twitter provided some level of information for 75 percent of the 679 requests--a request may involve more than one Twitter account. These represented a tiny proportion of the 140 million active users Twitter said it served as it celebrated its 6th birthday in March this year.

The Japanese government made the second largest number of requests. It sought information on 147 accounts, but Twitter only saw fit to provide information on 20 percent of its 98 requests.

Beyond these two countries, the numbers of requests sharply dropped off. Canada wanted information on 12 accounts, but only received information on 2 of its 11 requests. Spain also wanted information on 12 accounts, but Twitter refused to give it anything. The U.K. made 11 requests for information on 11 accounts and Twitter provided it with information on two of them.

The remaining countries each had fewer than 10 requests, including those in the Asia-Pacific region such as India, Indonesia, South Korea and Australia. Singapore was not included in the list.

When it came to government requests to remove or censor content, Twitter received a total of three court orders and three requests from governments, police, or other law enforcement agencies. These were across 18 accounts in total. Despite the requests, Twitter did not remove any content.

Outside of the government, the most common request was for the take down of copyright-infringing or defamatory material. Over the past six months, Twitter saw 3,378 requests to remove material, but complied with just 38 percent. It took down 5,275 tweets and removed 599 pieces of media items such as backgrounds or user profile pictures. It also provided Chilling Effects with a copy of the take-down notice, which, ironically provides the content of removed tweets.

In many cases, offending tweets were automated links to unsavoury Web sites that claimed users could download illegal software, but other claims also included images stolen from their original owners and accounts created to impersonate and defame another user.

Jeremy Kessel, manager of legal policy at Twitter, who wrote the post, emphasized the need to "hold governments accountable, especially on behalf of those who may not have a chance to do so themselves".

Twitter said its report was modeled after Google's, which published its fifth edition last month. The Internet titan reported it was "alarmed" over how free expression online appeared to be increasingly curbed by countries not known for censorship such as Western democracies.

Twitter added it would be publishing an updated version of its Transparency Report twice a year, as well as partner with Herdict, which it said "collects and disseminates real-time, crowdsourced information about Internet filtering, denial of service (DoS) attacks, and other blockages". The two initiatives, Kessel noted, were "an important part of keeping the Tweets flowing".


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