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Twitter report shows rise in government requests, still can't separate FISA data

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Twitter Windows 8 stock 1020
Twitter Windows 8 stock 1020

Twitter has released the third installation of its semiannual transparency report, showing how often it responds to requests for user information and takes down tweets based on a law enforcement or copyright request. In the first report released since the NSA's surveillance program began to spark public outrage, Twitter lamented that it was still unable to give those requests their own section. "We believe it's important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests — including FISA disclosures — separately from non-secret requests," wrote legal manager Jeremy Kessel. "Unfortunately, we are still not able to include such metrics."

Without these details, the report still shows a rise in all requests. 1,157 requests for account information were made between January 1st and June 30th, with 902 of those coming from the United States. On average, Twitter complied with a little over half the requests; for US submissions, that number rose to 67 percent. In the second half of 2012, 1,009 requests were received (815 from the US). Inside the US, over half of requests are subpoenas, which are received from law enforcement and don't require court approval; somewhat under a quarter of requests are accompanied by a warrant. As mentioned above, we can't see how many requests were made under FISA, but they could well be grouped in the "other" category, which made up 10 percent of the requests.

Governments also sent 60 requests to take down tweets or suspend accounts, up from 42 last year. Most of these requests came from Russia, Turkey, and Brazil, and the total effect was fairly minimal: Twitter says four accounts and 73 tweets were withheld, though some Russian accounts were first taken down and then reinstated. Twitter announced last year that it could withhold tweets in specific countries and leave them visible elsewhere, but the report doesn't mention any cases of this happening.

DMCA takedown requests saw a predictable rise as well, going from around 3,200 requests in late 2012 to 5,753 this time around. Around 60 percent of these result in either tweets or media (like photos and videos) being removed, and in very rare cases, counter-notices resulted in media being put back up. Twitter, with its microblog format and relatively sparse user data, isn't remotely in the same league as a company like Google, which receives hundreds of thousands of takedown notices a week and sees significantly more government requests. However, so far, it's fought to keep what data it does store away from the US and other countries.