Twitter’s Government Requests Jump for User Data, Tweet Removals

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Twitter Inc. said government requests for user data and content removal jumped in the second half of 2014, especially in Russia, Turkey and the U.S.

In its twice-yearly transparency report, Twitter said it received 84 percent more requests for content removal and 40 percent more requests for account information from governments worldwide from July 1 to Dec. 31, compared with the first six months of the year.

The report is part of a broader effort by the San Francisco-based company to shed light on government surveillance of its members. Twitter last year filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming that restrictions on the information the company makes public about surveillance demands violate free-speech rights.

Turkey led in requests for tweet takedowns in the recent six-month period, the report said. The Turkish government issued 477 requests to remove content from the microblogging site in the period, a rise of 156 percent from the prior six months. The company said some content was withheld in 50 percent of those cases. Russia submitted 91 requests for content removal in the period, and Germany submitted 43 requests.

The U.S. government makes the majority of inquiries about user data, and such requests increased 29 percent in the period to 1,622. Twitter’s compliance with those demands rose 8 percent, with the company providing some information in 80 percent of the inquiries. Turkey became the second-largest requester of user information with 356 requests, while Russia, which never previously requested user data, filed 108 requests in the period. No user information was provided to those two countries, Twitter said.

Technology Transparency

Twitter has been issuing transparency reports since 2012 to disclose the frequency of government demands for content removal and user data. Other technology companies, including Google Inc., have followed suit.

“Providing this level of transparency is not without its complications and sometimes means we get tough questions and criticism about our decisions,” Twitter’s Jeremy Kessel, senior manager of global legal policy, wrote in a blog post announcing Monday’s report. “However, this candid feedback helps us to be ever more thoughtful about our policies and decisions regarding content and compliance as we navigate complex, diverse legal regimes around the world.”

The social media company is seeking to get even more detailed in what it tells users about the information it hands over to government agencies. In October, Twitter sued the U.S. government for limiting the information it can disclose about agency inquiries. The move distinguished Twitter from other technology companies, including Google, Facebook Inc., LinkedIn Corp., Microsoft Corp and Yahoo Inc., which entered an agreement with the government to disclose accounts targeted for government surveillance in groups of 1,000.

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