Twitter releases data on government info requests from second half of 2012

Twitter released new data Monday on requests from governments for Twitter user information during the second half of 2012, following a July report with data from the first six months.

In Q3 and Q4 of 2012, Twitter saw increases in information requests (1009, up from 849 in Q1 and Q2) and removal notices (42, up from 6), and a slight decrease in copyright notices (3268, down from 3378).

Twitter’s two reports are now hosted on a specific site dedicated to government transparency, and the company wrote in a blog post that it would be providing “more granular details regarding information requests from the United States,” as well as adding sections to track removal requests and copyright notices.

We believe the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. To that end, it is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests for user information and government requests to withhold content from the Internet; these growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression – and real privacy implications.

Google has been providing transparency reports since 2009, and the company released its most recent set of data last week. My colleague Jeff Roberts explained the significance behind the data release and the stats Google provided, which applies to the Twitter data as well:

What this means in practice is that authorities in the United States and other countries are regularly demanding that Google hand over the keys to user accounts like Gmail or YouTube. In many cases, the government may have a legitimate reason to ask for such information, such as solving a crime or stopping a spying operation. Other times, though, governments may simply be fishing for data in a way that flouts citizens’ right to privacy. Such fishing expeditions, unfortunately, are relatively easy in the U.S. thanks to the sprawl of so-called administrative subpoenas — a legal tool that lets agencies demand data without first proving to a judge that they have a right to get it.

While Twitter has followed in Google’s footsteps in releasing surveillance data so far, Facebook has so far declined to provide the info, although it noted it’s working to promote transparency in other areas of its site. The company just launched an “Ask Our Chief Privacy Officer” feature on Monday to replace the voting system for privacy changes that it recently abolished.

Here’s the chart from Twitter showing the overview of government requests for 2012:

Twitter government information 2012 chart